Crew Injury and Death Law

“Dear Peter and Staff,
I so appreciate that you, Steph, Brean and Nancy were on my side. My thumb was crushed and tendons lacerated when the porthole cover’s tether failed. The injury and surgery were painful, and the rehab was long, slow, and painful. Meanwhile, the owner’s insurer kept squeezing me on paying maintenance and cure. Initially, I didn’t even know what those word’s meant. You explained me my rights and advised me, and Nancy found me doctors who would treat me. You and your office stood by me throughout the case and the settlement process. Thanks to all of you.
Sincerely,

Kirsti” (last name withheld because of confidential settlement)

As a maritime worker, you face a high risk of an on-the-job injury. Put simply, you have one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, and we are here to help.

Seamen, merchant marines, fisherman … all of you have jobs different from those on land and all of you face increased risks because of this. What may be relatively safe on land becomes dangerous at sea. Doing a job with waves crashing, many times on a moving platform, is very different from doing a job on stable land. You know that, and so do we.

Maritime injuries are woefully common, and when they occur, you might be days away from medical care. Injuries at sea have their own peculiar risks. Non-life threatening injuries can become life threatening, and what would be a minor injury on land can become an emergency, when you are at sea. Again, being a seaman is different. The vessel captain, and through him, the vessel owner, controls nearly everything on board. Maritime law recognizes this and seeks to compensate in favor of the seaman and fisherman. The law has several special legal remedies available to help ensure injured seamen/fishermen receive full and just compensation and care if injured at sea or on a vessel. If you are an injured maritime worker, an injured seaman, an injured fisherman, an injured merchant marine, or an injured yacht crewmember, we urge you to contact us, so we can help you determine your rights and seek full compensation under the maritime laws for your injury.

The Jones Act

You are no doubt at least somewhat familiar with the Jones Act. The Jones Act is a set of laws that helps protect seamen by providing a legal basis for injured seamen to receive compensation for injuries caused by their employers or co-workers while at sea or on a vessel. If you work as a crew member (even just for one voyage) on a tug, tanker, freighter, cruise ship, supply and crew boat, a fishing boat, or a yacht, the Jones Act almost certainly applies to you.

As any seaman knows, a ship can be a very dangerous place to work. The Jones Act is set up so that a seaman’s employer may be liable for contributing to a seaman’s injury. As a seaman or fisherman, you can recover damages for your at sea or on vessel injury even when if you were performing dangerous work. The law recognizes that working at sea is always risky and our laws (in particular, the Jones Act) and our courts make things easier and fairer for injured vessel crew. Put simply, as a crewmember injured at sea or on a vessel, you will have an easier time winning your injury case under the Jones Act than you would if you were suing for the same accident on land.

In addition to your being entitled to recover damages for your injuries caused by owner, co-worker (fellow crew member) or vessel negligence, as an injured seaman or fisherman, you are also entitled to pursue claims against the vessel owner if the vessel was not seaworthy. Your employer may also be liable for failing to provide you, as a seaman or fisherman, with adequate medical care. In other words, you may also have a legal claim if the vessel on which you were working was not properly set up to treat or handle on board injuries.

The Jones Act usually allows seamen and fishermen to recover damages for both past and future economic and non-economic losses. This means that if you are an injured seaman or fisherman, you can recover damages for such things as your lost wages or income, your past and future pain and suffering, and your past and future medical expenses. Again, the maritime legal system is set up to help seamen and fishermen just like you and our maritime injury lawyers are dedicated to do the same.

Unseaworthy Vessels

The maritime law requires vessel owners provide their crew with a seaworthy vessel. You, as a crewmember on a vessel are entitled to this. Seaworthiness under our maritime laws means more than that the vessel not be about to sink. The maritime courts typically define a seaworthy vessel as one reasonably fit for its intended use. This means the vessel you are on must be safe for going out to sea. As a seaman or fisherman, you are entitled to crew a ship equipped with appropriate equipment and safety gear. Your vessel must also have competent crew for the particular voyage and enough crew for the particular vessel and voyage, working appropriate hours and not being over-worked. Above all else, the ship you board and crew must be a safe place for you as a seaman or fisherman to work.

Just because a vessel leaves port in a seaworthy condition does not mean it cannot become unseaworthy once at sea. And if you become injured at sea on such a vessel that has become unseaworthy from dangers that arose or were created while on its voyage at sea, you may pursue the legal claim of unseaworthiness in just the same way as if the vessel had left port unseaworthy. It often makes sense to purse a claim that a vessel is not seaworthy as well as a claim under the Jones Act. Again, the maritime laws and the maritime courts are set up to help injured crew and our maritime lawyers are dedicated to doing the same. We will analyze your maritime injury case and pursue the proper claims on your behalf.

Maintenance and Cure

The maritime laws provide for you as a seaman to receive “maintenance and cure” if you sustain a maritime injury. Maintenance is a daily allowance, usually ranging from $25 to $45 per day, but, in some circumstances, could be considerably higher. Maintenance is provided to an injured crew member to pay for the food and shelter the injured crew member would have received aboard the vessel had the injury not have occurred. In other words, as an injured seaman or fisherman, you are eligible to these payments from the time of your injury to make up for the food and shelter you are no longer receiving from your vessel because of your injury.

The law of cure requires the employer to provide an injured seaman or fisherman with medical care and treatment, including hospitalization, and rehabilitation. Cure must be provided the injured seaman/fisherman until such time as he or she has reached maximum medical improvement. In other words, if you are injured at sea or on a vessel, your employer needs to pay for your medical treatment arising from your injury and your employer must do that until your condition as stabilized and is not going to change, either for better or for worse. Cure is just another way the maritime laws and the maritime courts make things better for the injured seaman in recognition of the dangers of the seagoing life.

It is important for you to know that as an injured seaman/fisherman, you are entitled to maintenance and cure if you are injured on a vessel or at sea, no matter how strong or weak your Jones Act claim or unseaworthiness claim may be. The damages to which you may be entitled under the Jones Act are in addition to your entitlement to maintenance and cure payments. The damages to which you may be entitled under an unseaworthiness claim are also in addition to your entitlement to maintenance and cure payments. Put simply, your entitlement to maintenance and cure operates separate and apart from your claims for damages on your Jones Act or your unseaworthiness claim.

Wrongful Death in a Maritime Setting and Death on the High Seas Act (“DOHSA”)

Remedies for wrongful death on the high seas are governed by the Death on The High Seas Act (referred to as DOHSA), a Federal statute enacted in 1920.  DOHSA is found at 46 U.S.C. Sec. 30301 through 30308.  This statute provides for wrongful death remedies on the “high seas”.  These remedies are limited to so called pecuniary damages, that is economic loss to the estate.

The common law provides wrongful death remedies on navigable waterways not the high seas.  The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the common law damages included not only loss of support, but also loss of the companionship and society of the decedent, and a survival action for the pain and suffering of the decedent.  However, the Supreme Court has confined the common law wrongful death remedy to cases in which the measure of damages is not governed by a federal statute.

DOHSA, when it controls, is not your friend.  It is not in line with the wrongful death remedies of most states or with the common law referred to above.  Most state wrongful death remedies provide for recovery not only of the economic contributions of the decedent but also for the pre death pain and suffering of the decedent; for the loss of companionship, guidance, and consortium of the “survivors”; and for the grief of the “survivors.”  In limiting the estate to economic damages, DOHSA limits the rights of those bereaved and left behind. In the right circumstances, DOHSA can be avoided in a maritime wrongful death case, but this takes the right set of circumstances and the right, knowledgeable attorney

Seeking Legal Help in your Maritime Law Case

Peter Commette is in charge of an experienced staff for Peter M. Commette, P.A.’s maritime personal injury practice. Mr. Commette has been handling Jones Act cases since 1982 where he started out on the defense side and then moved over to the plaintiff’s side in 1990.

As an experienced Jones Act attorney, Mr. Commette can assist you with your maritime injury claims by working to ensure you receive your full entitlement of maintenance and cure payments and your full damages under the maritime laws. If your employer improperly denies you the maintenance and cure benefits to which you are entitled, it may be possible for you to obtain an additional award of damages and attorney fees.

If you are an injured seaman or maritime worker, we urge you to contact us before you attempt to settle your claim. Determining your legal rights and maximizing your recovery can be complicated. Our experienced maritime lawyers will analyze your particular accident and injuries to figure out the proper settlement amount.

Unfortunately, most maritime employers and their in-house or insurance company claims agents seek to settle quickly and easily with injured crew. To put it bluntly, they often will seek take advantage of your injury and the difficult financial situation it has created for you. There is a very good chance the settlement offer your employer or its claims agent is offering you is much lower than what we as experienced maritime personal injury attorneys will be able to get for you. At least call us so we can discuss this with you.

Some cases we have handled:

  • Fishing boat crew member who lost his finger
  • Fishing boat worker who fell
  • Fishing boat crew member who fell on a wet deck and injured his knee
  • Wrongful death of barge crew member killed by a moving a crane
  • Deck hand injured his back while engaging in heavy lifting
  • Crew member fell down hatch, fracturing vertebrae and injuring his hip
  • Harbor pilot slipped on oil on deck, herniating disc in his back
  • Crewman injured on tug when the captain made a mistake during a tow
  • Crewman injured by wave over bow while lashing hatches
  • Cook severing finger when toggle for open port failed

Why Do You Need a Maritime Injury Lawyer and Why Us?

An admiralty or maritime injury attorney is a personal injury lawyer who focuses on admiralty law and maritime law. An admiralty and maritime injury lawyer understands the unique requirements of maritime and admiralty law governing legal claims for injuries on a vessel or at sea.

Maritime injury lawyers must be familiar with specific maritime laws, such as the Jones Act, the Death on High Seas Act, and the laws relating to unseaworthiness. Maritime injury attorneys must also know international law because your injury may have happened on a foreign flagged ship.

Even if you think the circumstances of your onboard injury are quite simple, your case might very well be quite complex. Your maritime injury lawyer should have experience handling the maritime law and international law issues your case might very well present. Your maritime injury attorney should also be familiar with how various injuries are handled and settled by the maritime industry against which your case will be brought.

If you are injured on a vessel, you should consult with an experienced maritime injury lawyer.

Our firm has been handling maritime injury cases since its inception. We have handled hundreds of maritime/admiralty matters all over the world.