Articles Posted in Admiralty & Maritime law

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 5-10-13 photo law booksMaintenance and cure has been recognized in the United States courts dating back to 1823 when it was determined by the court that seamen by nature of their profession are particularly prone to injury and illness and are often ill-equipped to handle the expense of such. If while in service of a vessel, traveling to the vessel (in some instances), or on shore leave, a seaman is injured, falls ill or aggravates a pre-existing injury or illness, it is the duty of the ship-owner to provide the seaman with ‘maintenance’, which is a daily stipend intended to cover their room and board expenses while recuperating. The seaman’s employer has the duty to pay maintenance promptly until maximum medical improvement has been reached. Maintenance is most commonly paid twice per month.

Medical Cure

All reasonable and necessary medical treatment related to an injury or illness which occurred while in service of a vessel is considered “cure”. Seamen have the right to choose their own medical providers and are under no obligation to receive treatment from doctors selected by their employer. Generally a seaman’s health care providers bill the vessel owner directly for any treatments falling under cure. Employers must promptly reimburse the seaman for any out of pocket expenses relating to their treatment, including the cost of travel to medical appointments.

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Congress has postponed new regulations that would require fishing vessels under 36 feet to carry inflatable life rafts when going more than three miles offshore to the fishing grounds. President Obama signed the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015 on February 8, 2016 and it now calls for a formal rule making process before any new regulations will go into effect. It is anticipated that the rule making process may take a year or more to complete, including a public comment period, a review period, and then codification of the final rules. For now, smaller fishing boats may still operate out to 12 miles from shore without a survival raft and larger boats can operate out to 12 miles with a buoyant device or life float.

Despite the delay in the regulations, we are hopeful that the new regulations will eventually go into place to safeguard the lives of fishermen working on smaller boats. Life rafts cost approximately $2,500 but are critical equipment in the event that the fishing vessel begins to sink. Heavy weather and wave conditions on the Pacific Coast make smaller vessels vulnerable to sinking and capsizing. It takes longer for the U.S. Coast Guard to reach fishing vessels that are sinking more than three miles offshore and life rafts will provide extra safety for crews waiting for Coast Guard rescues.

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Seamen who are injured in the course of their employment in an incident caused by the negligence of their employer could file lawsuits against the employers seeking compensation under the federal Jones Act. However, those who are from Washington need to know the requirements that must be met for such a case.

The first thing that the seamen must demonstrate is that their injuries occurred on a navigable vessel. The U.S. Supreme Court defines the term “vessel” as any watercraft or man-made contraption that is or can be used for water transportation. For example, a submersible oil rig is considered a vessel, while a fixed oil rig is not because it does not allow for transport over water.

The second requirement that seamen must demonstrate is that they were seamen when their injuries occurred. There is no fixed definition for the term “seaman,” so courts decide this issue in each case after assessing the employee’s duties and how much time the plaintiff spent on the vessel when making a determination. However, the general guideline is that a seaman has to help with the operation or mission fulfillment of the vessel.

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The cruise industry has suffered a great deal in recent years. Sometimes due to reckless behavior, sometimes due to negligent behavior and sometimes due to no identifiable fault on the part of the liners, passengers have been suffering cruise ship injuries, cruise-related illnesses and have been stranded at sea on a number of recent occasions.

Most recently, over 300 passengers and crew aboard a cruise ship owned by the Royal Caribbean line fell very ill during what should have been a relaxing trip. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the illness afflicting these patients was norovirus. Norovirus is highly contagious and generally spreads when one comes in contact with a contaminated surface, an infected person and/or contaminated food.

While norovirus is not a potentially fatal disease, it is deeply unpleasant. Passengers and crew aboard the Royal Caribbean ship experienced severe gastrointestinal symptoms as a result of the virus, including diarrhea, stomach cramps and vomiting. Many passengers are likely outraged that they experienced this illness aboard the ship. Yet it is not completely clear whether or not they will be able to sue the line successfully in regards to the harm they suffered onboard.

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Nearly one year ago, the president issued an executive order entitled Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity. This executive order clearly states that the policy of the U.S. government is to increase the sharing of information related to cyber threats with the private sector. In sharing this information, the government hopes to empower the private sector to better protect itself against cyber threats.

It is critical that marine employers take advantage of the efforts that the federal government has made in response to this particular executive order. Not only do cybersecurity threats pose hazards to general data intrusion, certain threats can prove to be truly hazardous to maintaining maritime safety.

For example, if a certain cybersecurity threat was launched against a vessel and that vessel’s systems were not prepared to contain and repel the threat, the intrusion could dramatically impact the functioning of any affected system. Given that an increasingly substantial number of operations are contained within on-board electronics, compromise could be hazardous not only to general vessel operations but also to occupants of the vessel.

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Over the past several years, the cruise industry has begun to develop a negative reputation. In addition to ships getting stuck at sea, ships have crashed and have hosted a number of passenger injuries and deaths. If you or any of your loved ones have suffered cruise ship injuries over the past few years, you may still be reeling from the experience. After all, no one books a cruise ship vacation with the expectation of arriving home injured and emotionally taxed.

Some cruise ship passengers are pressured into settling their claims or dropping them altogether. The cruise industry employs powerful advocates who aim to keep their liability costs low. As a result, it is important that injured cruise ship passengers immediately retain the counsel of attorneys experienced in cruise ship claims. These attorneys will be able to help you navigate your claim and obtain the financial compensation you deserve.

“But wait!” you may say. “The Contract of Carriage I agreed to when I purchased my ticket prohibits me from filing a claim against the cruise ship company.” Please understand that while you are correct in that purchasing your ticket did automatically bind you to certain legal provisions drawn up by the cruise company, this agreement does not necessarily bar you from bringing a successful claim. An experienced attorney will be able to help you navigate your legal options, even if you signed a waiver indicating that you would not sue the cruise line in the event of accident or injury.

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Longshoremen are skilled professionals trained to work safely and effectively on potentially hazardous docks and piers. Tragically, even the most conscientious dock workers can suffer devastating injuries when accidents occur. When longshoremen suffer injuries, they generally have the right to collect workers’ compensation. Under certain circumstances, they may also be able to file additional claims under the theories of product liability, premises liability and/or personal injury.

It is critical that accident victims file claims that best fit the unique circumstances of their cases. Many dock and pier accident victims suffer severe injuries that can impair their ability to work and to function generally for a long period of time. Among the most common serious injuries that longshoremen suffer are spinal cord injuries, joint injuries, burns and traumatic brain injuries. When successful claims are filed, workers can obtain the compensation they need in order to treat these injuries and to move forward in life in the healthiest ways possible. Workers are often entitled to pain and suffering awards as well as compensation for medical bills and for wages lost as a result of their injuries.

Injured longshoremen often receive a great deal of moral support from fellow members of the International Longshore Warehouse Union (ILWU) and from co-workers in the maritime industry. However, it is critical to seek professional support as well when you have been injured on the docks. An experienced attorney who has worked extensively with longshoremen in the past will best understand what claims to file and how to ensure the success of those claims.

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We have previously written about how critical it is that all maritime operations have a strong safety culture. Failure to ensure that all workers are properly trained, outfitted with adequate, protective safety gear and understand how to respond in hazardous situations can lead to maritime injuries and even wrongful death.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) indicates that three characteristics help to define how a maritime operation can create and maintain an adequate safety culture. First, those involved in the operation must be able to recognize their power to maintain a safe workplace. By understanding that accidents are preventable by their very nature, workers can take significant steps to ensure that they do not occur. This is best achieved by following safety procedures and best practices conscientiously.

Second, maritime workers at all levels of a given operation must be trained to think about safety hazards, prevention and general issues constantly. Third, these workers must seek improvement to the operation’s safety culture continuously. In essence, safety is never an issue that resolves. It is an evolutionary process in which all workers must be involved and that all workers must consistently seek to improve.

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Late last month, a drilling rig stationed off the Gulf of Mexico experienced a significant blowout. A cloud of gas surrounding the rig ignited and subsequently burned out of control in the wake of the blowout. After the rig experienced the blowout, all 44 workers stationed on the rig were evacuated in order to prevent further explosion injuries. The blowout and subsequent fire have many maritime safety experts and legislators questioning whether the offshore safety culture has changed significantly enough since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill disaster.

After the natural gas well being drilled offshore blew out, workers scrambled to shut the well down through the utilization of a blowout preventer. However, the workers were forced to evacuate before they could completely shut down the well. What caused the resulting cloud of gas to ignite was undetermined in the immediate wake of the significant safety incident.

This incident is especially disturbing given that blowout preventer malfunctions inspired the oil spill in the Gulf in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon explosion. Though legislators and safety regulators mandated changes to this equipment and safety practices related to blowout prevention practices on offshore rigs, the latest blowout in the Gulf suggests that these experts did not go far enough in their attempts to protect workers from future dangerous explosions and spills.

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Some kinds of accidents are completely preventable. If vessel owners, supervisors and maritime workers follow safety protocols, wear appropriate safety gear and respond to the unexpected in the ways that they have been trained to, tragedies can be averted. However, other accidents are only somewhat preventable. When it comes to navigating bad weather on a commercial fishing vessel, there is only so much that maritime workers can do to avoid the worst.

There are various trainings, safety protocols and preventative measures that can be taken to mitigate a risk of accidents during poor weather conditions on commercial fishing vessels, just as there are on recreational fishing vessels. These precautionary measures should be taken seriously, as failure to do so can lead to a far higher risk of injury and death.

In the case of freak lightening, there is little that can prevent related injury if the lightning occurs seemingly out of nowhere and strikes without warning. However, taking weather reports seriously and responding to weather-related warnings urgently can help to prevent injury. The only truly safe place one can be during a lightening storm is in a well-constructed stationary building. However, taking shelter in the safest area of a commercial fishing vessel will give workers the best possible shot at avoiding lightening-related injury and death.