Injuries to seaman and passengers, at sea or in port, involve rules, regulations and legal principles that can vary significantly from other forms of personal injury law. And more than boats are covered, including barges, drilling platforms, and all forms of shipping including cargo, cruise ships and down to tugs or even jet skis. Indeed, if it floats and you have been injured or damaged by or in it, you may well have an injury involving admiralty law or maritime law.
The United States Admiralty and Maritime Law applies specifically to shipping and navigation, whether private or commercial, and covers accidents involving water, seamen, towage, docks, piers, wharves and piracy. This complex area of negligibility is not the place to depend upon the guidance of an insurance company or boat owners, whose primary goal is too often to save money. The areas of legal responsibility are complex and need an experienced maritime lawyer or admiralty attorney like those at Harrell & Harrell.
An injury caused by an owner or operator of a boat or other water-related obstruction can be devastating, all too often fatal, and our maritime accident lawyers know how to properly pursue the avenues necessary to seek a just and fair compensation.
As with any accidental injury, be sure you understand all the possibilities. Never discuss any settlement with an insurance company — let the experienced lawyers at Harrell & Harrell handle that responsibility for you. We fight big insurance companies and corporations every day.
Maritime workers have challenging jobs that carry some unique and very dangerous risks. Even though workers, employers, vessel owners and transportation officials take precautions to minimize workplace risks, equipment failures, faulty directives, misinformation and/or a loss of control due to weather or other hazardous conditions can result in unexpected accidents with devastating consequences.
The National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) has already launched its investigation, separate from the Coast Guard’s inquiry, into the missing 790-foot El Faro cargo ship that sank off the Bahamas during Hurricane Joaquin with 391 shipping containers on deck. There were 33 crew members on board when the freighter sank but the ship’s owner, TOTE Maritime, has not released a list of crew members. Authorities have confirmed that 28 Americans and 5 Polish seamen were on board at the time of the tragedy. TOTE Maritime’s president and CEO said the ship’s captain was aware of the tropical weather that was forecast to develop into a major hurricane but had a plan to sail ahead of the hurricane.
Red Cross officials have announced that they have representatives available to support the family members of the crew who live in or have traveled to Jacksonville, Florida, to wait for information. El Faro left from JaxPort’s Blount Island facilities bound for San Juan, Puerto Rico, but reported that the ship had suffered a loss of power and was taking on water. With a loss of propulsion, the cargo ship was left floating in 15,000 feet of water north of Crooked Island, Bahamas. The ship had 2 fiberglass lifeboats that were designed to be unsinkable even if they carried a full crew of 43 people and filled with sea water. The cargo ship also had 5 emergency life rafts on board.
When performing any job at sea, it is important for workers and their loved ones to understand their rights under the Jones Act of 1920. This federal statute has been modified several times but primarily grants the possibility of compensation when a seaman is killed or injured while carrying out his or her duties. Based upon the role each played in creating an unsafe condition, the accident victim or certain family members can sue employers for the negligence of the ship owner, the captain or fellow members of the crew. It also allows seamen to bring actions against ship owners based on claims of un-seaworthiness or negligence which is not afforded by common international maritime law.
The Jones Act also allows an injured seaman or their survivors (the plaintiff) the right to a jury trial, which is not afforded by general maritime laws that do not have a specific statute authorizing such actions. In addition to the Jones Act, is the DOHSA (or Death on the High Seas Act) which is a United States admiralty law that was originally enacted to permit recovery of damages against a ship’s owner by a spouse, child or dependent family member of a seamen killed in international waters. The DOHSA only applies to wrongful death cases caused by negligence or un-seaworthiness of a ship.
While maritime laws can seem overwhelming and complex, dealing with personal injuries or the loss of a loved one at sea has a lot in common with other personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits. At Harrell and Harrell, our attorneys are keenly aware of how each lawsuit needs to be investigated, documented and presented to show exactly how an incident happened and to identify where neglect or a failed process may have played a critical role in the outcome. It is our legal team’s excellent attention to details that have helped us establish how a vessel’s owner, fleet manager, contractors who worked on the ship, crew members or equipment manufacturers may be liable for damages.
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