It is no secret that working offshore can be very dangerous work. Because the maritime industry has been around for centuries, the law in the United States has been able to develop so that there are a lot of rules and regulations governing the responsibilities maritime companies must uphold to keep their offshore workers safe. These companies have the advantage of knowing their responsibilities, but that doesn't mean they share this knowledge with their employees. What that means is that many maritime workers who become injured do not know their rights and simply trust in their employer to "do the right thing."
Working offshore or on vessels usually means you have a relatively good income to take care of yourself or your family. Life doesn't stop after you've been injured. If your offshore income is what keeps your bills at bay and house afloat, its easy to want to place faith in your employer after you get injured on the job. The problem is that your employer wants you to trust them for the wrong reasons.
On March 9, 2017, the Supreme Court of Washington held that a Jones Act seaman could recover punitive damages in an unseaworthiness claim. At least within the state of Washington, this ruling clarified previous confusion regarding applicability of common law damages for unseaworthiness claims. The case involved a plaintiff who lost two of his fingers while moving fish below deck. A hatch with a broken handle could not be closed in time and severed the plaintiff's fingers. The plaintiff alleged that the vessel operators knew about the broken handle but failed to repair it.
Yesterday, four oil platform workers jumped off an oil production platform off the coast of Louisiana into the Gulf of Mexico in an attempt to flee an early morning fire that threatened to cause serious bodily injury. Luckily, the workers were quickly recovered from the water by a responding vessel. No injuries have been reported thus far, but it remains to be seen if these workers suffered any internal injuries from smoke inhalation or from the trauma of jumping into the water.
The United States Coast Guard called off the search for two missing crewmembers of the fishing vessel Exito in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, following several days of intense search operations involving multiple Coast Guard and good Samaritan vessels and aircraft. The missing crewmembers abandoned ship after the vessel began taking on water for an undetermined cause. The Exito was one of 25 vessels selected in 2004 for a $97 million federal buyout. As a part of the deal, the Exito was retired and barred from commercial fishing anywhere in the world. At the time of its sinking, the Exito was engaged in cargo or freight purposes. Three crewmembers were luckily rescued, but the two missing individuals are presumed lost at sea.
Throughout the United States, the number of oil and gas rigs operating offshore has been on a steady increase. As of September 30, 2016, Baker Hughes reported 22 rigs operating offshore, with 21 of those rigs located in the Gulf of Mexico. While still down from 29 operating offshore rigs one year ago, the oil and gas industry is climbing out of one of the most severe production downturns in recent history.
When a seaman passes away while working offshore, one of the last things that families should have to concern themselves with is who will pay for funeral expenses and take responsibility for the financial contributions that the deceased seaman would have continued to make to the family had the accident and death not occurred. Unfortunately, many vessel owners and employers try to avoid paying the family of deceased seaman the proper amount of damages.