Articles Posted in Factory Trawler Crew Injuries

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 NortherJaeger-300x199It’s that time of year again.  The holidays are over and you’re going back to work on a factory trawler up in Alaska for “A-Season.”  Whether you’re a returning crew member or a greenhorn, it’s important that you have a clear understanding of your legal rights before going up to Alaska on a factory trawler.  Failure to protect or know your rights before you leave can seriously impact your ability to get fair compensation if you are injured.  Here are the top 10 things to know about your legal rights before going back to work:

  1. Report Your Injury. If you get injured on a factory trawler, you need to report the injury as soon as possible in writing.  Some leads or supervisors will try to delay or discourage you from filling out an accident report in order to limit the number of claims filed against the company.  You should insist on filling out an accident report immediately.  Remind your supervisor that company policy requires you to fill out an accident report following an injury.
  1. Fill Out An Accident Report. Fill out an accident/incident report even if you believe the injury will resolve quickly.  Some injuries that you initially believe will resolve quickly can turn into larger issues that may lead to surgery.  You are not a doctor and don’t know if your injury will become more serious than you believe at first.  If you fail to fill out an accident/incident report in a timely manner, the company may try to deny your claim because you did not report it.
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DSC_8358On November 9, the U.S. Coast Guard received a request for a medevac from F/V BLUE NORTH, a Seattle-based fishing company, when a 41-year-old crew member sustained a neck injury while working on the vessel.  Neck and spinal injuries can be serious and can lead to permanent disabilities.  Due to the nature of the injury, a U.S. Coast Guard flight surgeon recommended an emergency medevac from the vessel to a trauma center.  At the time of the incident, the vessel was approximately 285 miles northwest of St. Paul in the Bering Sea and steamed toward shore to meet the helicopter.  Taking off from Air Station Kodiak, a Jayhawk helicopter flew to Cold Bay to hoist the injured fisherman off the fishing vessel and the crew member was transported to the hospital for emergency evaluation and treatment.

At this point, there are no details about the cause of the crew member’s injury.  Fishermen injured on fishing vessels are entitled to coverage under the federal Jones Act, which covers seamen, fishermen, and other maritime workers injured on boats and ships.  Under the Jones Act, an injured fisherman may be entitled to lost wages and damages for pain, disability, and loss of enjoyment of life.

If you are injured on a fishing vessel, it is important that you notify your employer of the injury and fill out an incident report.  In the report, you should describe exactly how you were injured, what unsafe condition contributed to your injury, and provide the names of all witnesses that were present at the scene of your injury.  It is important that you obtain prompt medical attention following an injury.  You have the right to select your own medical providers and do not have to go to doctors selected by the fishing company.  While you receive medical treatment for your injuries, the company has an obligation to pay you a daily stipend called “maintenance” to cover your room-and-board expenses on land.  The company is also obligated to pay for all medical expenses related to your injury or illness that are designed to improve your condition.

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article-alaska-2-0726According to news reports, 46 crew members were forced to abandoned ship when the Fishing Company of Alaska factory trawler F/T ALASKA JURIS began taking on water and sinking off the coast of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands yesterday.  The U.S. Coast Guard was notified at 11:30 a.m. that the vessel was in distress and taking on water.  The crew got into survival suits and deployed in three survival life rafts.  The U.S. Coast Guard reports no injuries and the entire crew was reportedly transferred from life rafts in the water to merchant ships in the area.

The 220-foot F/T ALASKA JURIS began taking on water approximately 690 miles west of Dutch Harbor.  After the crew abandoned ship, two of the lift rafts were secured to the sinking vessel in an attempt to keep the rafts from drifting away.  A third raft with another 18 members of the crew was unable to tie up to the vessel and was adrift.  Crew members in all three rafts were eventually picked up by the good Samaritan merchant vessels SPAR CANIS and VIENNA EXPRESS.  The crew was loaded onto the vessels by 8:20 p.m. and was in route to Adak, Alaska according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

The cause of the vessel taking on water is under investigation by the Coast Guard, but preliminary information points to potential mechanical problems in the ship’s engine room that caused the vessel to lose power.  Weather at the scene was reportedly calm with limited visibility due to heavy fog.

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Despite the deaths of 131 commercial fishermen from 2000 to 2009, the regulation of fishing vessel safety is very limited, in part, due to a strong commercial fishing lobby.  According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), half of these fishermen died from vessel disasters and another 31 percent died from falls overboard.  NIOSH is a leader in promoting the use of life jackets and other safety measures in the fishing industry.  NIOSH has found that only one of the 191 fishermen who died between 2000 and 2012 was wearing a life jacket.  While wearing a life jacket does not guarantee survival, it certainly greatly increases your chances of survival in the event that you fall overboard.

The types of life jackets worn on fishing vessels decks tend to vary based on the fishery.  According to a NIOSH survey, crabbers favored the use of Mustang and Sterns Inflatable Suspenders, while longliners preferred only the Mustang suspenders.  Gillnetters liked the Mustang suspenders, and Regatta Fishermen’s Oilskins with floatation built in.  Deck crews of Trawlers preferred inflatable suspenders, oilskins and a Stearns’ foam vest.  Given the different work requirements of the various fisheries, it is important for vessel owners to share information about what works best and to encourage or mandate the use of life jackets out on deck.

Because of the number of deaths caused by falling overboard, the use of life jackets has become a major focus at NIOSH.  The organization has been pushing employers to have a plan for when fishermen onboard should be wearing a lifejacket.  Standards may vary from vessel to vessel, and could be based on weather, duties, location of the ship, and other factors.  However, NIOSH is pushing all employers to have a plan for the use of life jackets.  In addition to life jackets, NIOSH stresses the use of man overboard alarms, personal locator beacons, and closing water-tight hatches on fishing vessels as important safety precautions that can save lives.

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The Washington State Supreme Court ruled en banc yesterday in Dean v. The Fishing Company of Alaska, Inc., a case involving wrongful termination of a seaman’s right to maintenance and cure.  The court ruled that where a seaman’s maintenance and cure have been cut off by the vessel owner, the seaman is entitled to have these benefits reinstated pending trial unless the vessel owner can provide unequivocal evidence that the seaman has reached maximum cure.

Facts Of The Dean Case:

Ian Dean worked aboard a fishing vessel owned by The Fishing Company of Alaska (FCA).  Dean, standing 6 feet 3 inches tall, was assigned to work in an area with a low overhead and thus had to work stooped over.  While aboard the vessel, Dean developed pain in his neck and hands.  When he left the vessel, he sought medical treatment and FCA began paying maintenance and cure, as required by general maritime law (for more information on a seaman’s right to maintenance and cure, click here).  After paying Dean’s maintenance and cure for just over three years, FCA stopped paying when it obtained the opinion of a physician that Dean’s injuries had reached maximum cure.  At the time when FCA cut off Dean’s maintenance and cure, Dean’s own physician opined that Dean’s injuries could benefit from additional treatment.

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Fish processors working on fishing vessels in Alaska work long hours under difficult working conditions.  Unfortunately, hand and arm injuries are common in the Alaska fishing industry.  The hands of fish processors or fishermen can get caught in moving Baader processing equipment, augers, unguarded machinery, bait choppers, conveyor belts, cut by knives used for processing fish, smashed by boxes of fish product inside the factory, or subject to frostbite while working in freezing conditions in the freezer.  Whatever the cause of the hand injury, these injuries can have life-long impacts on fish processors and their families.

Over the years, the lawyers at our firm have collected millions of dollars for fish processors and fishermen suffering from traumatic hand and arm injuries, including amputations of the arm, hand, and fingers.  We know that these cases demand special attention and the legal expertise of seasoned maritime injury lawyers with a background in fish processing and factory trawler injuries.  Much of the equipment and processes on board a factory trawler are unique to the fishing industry and it is important that the lawyers understand how the equipment is used and what an employer should do to protect fish processors from hand injuries.

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 Fish processors on factory trawlers work long hours under difficult and often dangerous conditions.  Injuries are common and can change your life forever.  In the wake of an injury, it is important that a fish processor understand the important differences between the Jones Act and Alaska state workers’ compensations laws.  If the processor was injured in the territorial waters off Alaska (within three miles) on a factory trawler or processing barge, you have the right to bring a state workers’ compensation claim and may also seek additional compensation under the Jones Act.  If you are injured outside of state territorial waters (more than three miles from shore) on a factory trawler, you are likely covered under the Jones Act and general maritime law.

Benefits for Injured Fish Processors Under Alaska State Workers’ Compensation.

Under state workers’ compensation schemes, an injured fish processor only has to show that the injury occurred at work to recover workers’ compensation benefits.  These benefits may include time loss (usually a percentage of your regular wage), medical benefits, retraining costs in some circumstances, and a partial permanent disability award if you sustain a permanent injury.  The fish processor does not need to show that the employer was negligent in causing the injury.  However, the benefits under workers’ compensation are limited and, in most instances, the Jones Act provides increased compensation for an injured fish processor.   

If you are injured within Alaska territorial waters, many fish processing employers will try to send the injured fish processor into the Alaska workers’ compensation system where the benefits are usually less than what may be recovered under the Jones Act.  Although you can pursue benefits through the workers’ compensation scheme, you should also consult with an experienced maritime personal injury lawyer to determine whether a Jones Act claim would provide additional benefits not available under the Alaska workers’ compensation scheme. 

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