Articles Posted in The Jones Act

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On Saturday, the Seattle-based crab boat F/V DESTINATION went missing in the Bering Sea, approximately two miles off of St. George Island, with six crewmembers aboard.  St. George Island is located about 650 miles west of Kodiak Island, and has approximately 100 residents.  The DESTINATION was on its way to begin the snow crab season.

The vessel’s emergency locator beacon (EPIRB) was activated at 6:11 a.m. on Saturday, and the U.S. Coast Guard and volunteers searched for nearly three days for the vessel and crew, without success.  The EPIRB can be activated manually, or activates automatically upon hitting sea water.  The Coast Guard received no mayday call from the vessel, which has led to speculation that whatever befell the vessel happened quickly.  Volunteer vessels assisted the Coast Guard search, as well as individuals on ATVs along the shoreline of St. George Island.  There are high cliffs along the shore of St. George, which provided volunteers a vantage point to look out to sea for evidence of the DESTINATION or debris from the vessel.

Search crews reported 30 mph winds, five to eight-foot waves, and air temperature of 20 degrees.  The Bering Sea is known for bad weather this time of year.  In such temperatures, ice can build up on a boat, reducing stability and buoyancy.

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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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Exito-300x182On Friday, December 6, 2016, at 9:38 p.m., the crew of the F/V Exito contacted the U.S. Coast Guard reporting that they were taking on water 14 miles northeast of Dutch Harbor.  Five crew members were aboard when the vessel sank and a nearby vessel, the Afognak Strait, was able to rescue three crew members from the water.  The U.S. Coast Guard responded with the Coast Guard cutter Alex Haley and a Jayhawk helicopter from Air Station Kodiak.  Unfortunately, the other two crew members were not found and remain missing.

After searching for the crew for three days, the U.S. Coast Guard called off the search on December 9.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the missing crewmembers of the F/V Exito.  The investigation into the details of the sinking of the F/V Exito remain under investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard.

The crew of the F/V Exito is covered under the Jones Act.  If you have questions about your right to compensation under the Jones Act, contact our experienced maritime injury and death attorneys for a free consultation.

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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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An employer is negligent for failing to provide its employees with sufficient space to safely conduct their work. For example, in Ribitizki v. Canmar Reading & Bates, 111 F.3d 658 (9th Cir. 1997), a seaman was assigned to work in a pit room on an oil drilling ship. The open area of the pit room was a rectangle four-feet by sixteen-feet. Within this space was a sink, a hatch in the deck, and a guarded opening for a stairway. While unkinking a hose cleaning the pit room, the seaman was injured when he walked backward or slipped into the open hatch. The employer argued that nobody had complained about the safety of the pit room before the incident and that no other employees had been injured in the pit room. Holding that the failure to provide adequate space for the crew to perform their work supported negligence, the Ninth Circuit reversed the trial court and stated:

“Ribitzki stated in his deposition that the pit room was an unsafe place because it provided insufficient space for him to perform his assigned task. . . Due to the configuration of the pit room, there was only 24 inches of deck space between the open hatch and the pit room bulkhead. It was in this contricted space immediately adjacent to the open hatch where Ribitzki performed his maneuver to unkink the hose. To get the kinks out of the hose, he turned around with his back to the open hatch and the hose above his head. When he did so, he stepped or slipped and fell into the opening. A jury could find from this evidence that the pit room in the area where Ribitzki fell was an usafe place for him to work.”

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A lawsuit filed in U.S District Court in Hawaii challenges the applicability of the Jones Act in the state.  The lawsuit was filed by attorney and former Hawaii state lawmaker John Carroll and alleges that provisions of the Jones Act are in violation of the commerce clause by restricting shipping between states to American-owned and manned ships.  Carroll blames the Jones Act for Hawaii’s high cost of living and other economic ills. 

The U.S. District Court dismissed the case on the grounds that the population Carroll represents, all Hawaiian consumers, is unduly large and diverse.  Carroll previously challenged the Jones Act in 2009, and his previous case was dismissed on the same grounds as the present case.  Carroll already filed an appeal of the ruling.

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In order to qualify for coverage under the Jones Act and other general maritime law remedies, a seaman must be in the service of the vessel at the time of the injury or illness.  Whether a seaman is in the service of the vessel, is a recurring issue in maritime injury litigation, but is broadly construed by the courts in favor of coverage for the seaman.

The responsibility of vessel owners to seamen for maintenance, cure, and unearned wages is to be construed “broadly, when an issue concerning … scope arises”.  Aguilar v. Standard Oil Co., 318 U.S. 724, 729 (1943).  The U.S. Supreme Court held, “the words ‘in the course of his employment’ as used in the Jones Act were not restricted to injuries occurring on navigable waters, … they were broadly used by Congress in support of ‘all the constitutional power it possessed’”.  Braen v. Pfeifer Oil Transp. Co., 361 U.S. 129, 130-31 (1959).  “[T]he nature and foundations of the liability require that it be not narrowly confined or whittled down by restrictive and artificial distinctions defeating its broad and beneficial purposes.  If leeway is to be given in either direction, all the considerations which brought the liability into being dictate it should be in the sailor’s behalf.”  Aguilar, 318 U.S. at 735.

Whether a seaman is “in the course of employment” is a function of “1) the degree of control the employer-vessel owner had over the seaman at the time of injury; and 2) whether the seaman, at the time of injury, was on personal business or on a mission for the benefit of his employer or attending to the business of the employer.”  Lee v. Mississippi River Grain Elevator, Inc., 591 So.2d 1371, 1373 (La. App. 1991).

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An engine room fire was reported yesterday afternoon aboard the 334-foot fishing vessel ARCTIC STORM off the Washington Coast, about 30 miles west of Gray’s Harbor.  The vessel’s crew reported the fire at approximately 3:30 p.m., notifying the Coast Guard that there was an uncontrollable engine room fire.  At the time the fire broke out, there were 120 crewmembers aboard.

5-21-2013 photo arctic stormThe Coast Guard dispatched two MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crews from Air Station Astoria and three 47-foot motor lifeboat crews to the scene.  The Coast Guard also notified other ships in the area of the emergency via an Urgent Marine Information Broadcast.

The crew of the ARCTIC STORM was able to get the fire under control later in the evening before the Coast Guard arrived on scene, using the Halon chemical firefighting system aboard the ship.  However, as of yesterday evening it was still too hot to enter the engine room and assess the damage.

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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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