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What to Know About Offshore Injuries

According to the Bureau of Security and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), over the past decade, 23 people have died and over 2,000 individuals have been injured on drilling rigs and other offshore structures.

Offshore structures, such as drillings rigs, can be an exceptionally hazardous workplace for oil and gas employees. Over time, the increased production activity has resulted in more individuals operating in close quarters with others as a way to maximize profits. The more individuals that are on these offshore sites, the more likely a severe accident is to happen.

A few of the most common offshore structure dangers include:

  • Cable or block breaks
  • Slip and fall accidents
  • Grease/oil on the deck
  • Damaged grating, pipe tongs
  • Cathead slips
  • Falling things
  • Irresponsible equipment operating
  • Wrongful death
  • Offshore explosions
  • Unseaworthiness claims
  • Other carelessness

Common Offshore Injuries

Offshore work is both physically demanding and dangerous, and serious injuries are all too common. Injuries that offshore employees face include head injuries, fractures, and electrical shock and, sometimes, can be deadly. Maritime employees can face various types of offshore injuries, including:

  • Head Injuries - An abrupt blow from a pipe swinging above the head, from an explosion, or from falling equipment can cause a traumatic brain injury, varying from a mild concussion to long-lasting impairment. A traumatic brain injury can negatively affect your ability to generate income and provide for your enjoyed ones. Falls from heights likewise can cause open head injuries and closed head injuries, causing vertigo, lowered attention span, double vision, and even slurred speech.
  • Back Injuries - The heavy lifting and hard labor aboard a ship or oil rig can result in major back injuries leading to the need for surgical treatment. Falls from unsafe balconies or unsecured ladders can trigger back injuries, consisting of spinal cord and nerve damage. A major back injury can cause a maritime employee the inability to work for a prolonged period of time.
  • Burn Injuries - Malfunctioning safety equipment, the accumulation of combustible fumes in unventilated areas, welding accidents, and loss of well control can all activate explosions and fires, leading to severe burns. Generally speaking, human error and negligence are the causes of severe burn injuries. No matter the cause, a burn injury can cause disfigurement, require cosmetic surgery, and lead to irreversible impairments. Offshore employees are often out of work for months after a serious burn injury.
  • Limb Loss - Losing a limb is a life-altering injury. Many maritime-related amputation accidents include cables under tension or mooring lines. An employee's hand can get their leg caught in the line as it coils onto a winch drum. A deckhand can get their leg caught and squashed between two barges, in some cases requiring a prosthetic.
  • Wrongful Death- Each year, maritime workers pass away due to falls, explosions, electrocutions, and other accidents caused by the carelessness of an employee.

What Should I Do If I Am Injured at Sea?

If you find yourself in a maritime accident, it is vital that you act rapidly to protect your rights. Below you will find a short guide on what to do if you are injured at sea. The following actions are crucial for maritime accidents:

  1. Report and document the accident - It is essential that you let your manager or captain know as soon as the accident occurs that you have been injured. Jones Act or Maritime Law requires the injured party to report any job-related injury within seven days but do not wait that long. The insurer may presume that because you did not report the accident right away, it wasn't severe, so report it sooner rather than later. If you get injured while working and believe that your injuries require medical attention or have even the slightest possibility of causing you to be unable to work, report it right away.
  2. Seek medical attention - The law requires the company you are employed by to see that you receive medical treatment for your injuries. If you are at sea and your injuries are severe, the vessel should have the Coast Guard medevac you to a healthcare facility. If you are far out at sea or in international waters, a Coast Guard helicopter may have the ability to get you as soon as you are within range of the United States. The vessel is able to talk to a doctor by phone or radio if your condition is severe. And, if you are in a foreign nation, your employer is responsible for getting you proper medical treatment and getting you back home at their cost. Your employer must pay for all medical treatment that you require if you are hurt or end up being ill while working on the vessel.
  3. Employ a Doctor of Your Choice - You have the right to choose your own doctor. You might be tempted to pick a doctor advised by your employer or your employer's insurer, but we recommend you see a doctor of your choice for an impartial evaluation. Ensure that the doctor or healthcare expert documents everything. Your medical records will be used as evidence if a claim needs to be submitted.
  4. Follow doctor’s orders - Follow all of your doctor’s suggestions. Do not skip any visits with your doctor, as appointments that you blow off send a message to the insurance company and your employer that you are fully recovered or that your injuries were not severe. It is not uncommon for insurers to send out private investigators to monitor your development without you knowing. They may take photos or videos to keep track of your actions while you recover from your injuries.
  5. Do not provide a recorded declaration - Never, ever offer a recorded statement. The insurance provider is in the business of making as much money as possible for their investors, and their intent is to pay out as little on your claim as they can. The insurance provider is not working for your benefit, no matter how nice they are when they contact you. They will ask leading questions and produce their own story about your accident, which most times are not accurate.
  6. Consult a maritime attorney to understand each of your rights - It is important to have an attorney that is familiar with Maritime Law and who is going to fight for you. By seeking advice from an attorney, you will have a much better understanding of your rights and the options that you have. Comprehending your rights and your company's obligation to pay specific benefits is the vital baseline in making choices on how to continue.

Many maritime accidents are preventable by adequate maintenance, training, and procedures. Maritime and sea laws are in place to ensure that injured individuals have a way to recuperate damages from the responsible parties when injuries are the result of carelessness, neglect, incorrect procedures, faulty devices, or unseaworthiness. It is important that you maintain legal representation if you feel any of your rights have been overlooked or violated.

Maritime law, Admiralty law, and Jones Act laws are intricate, and it can be hard to figure out which laws apply to your specific case. If you are not sure of which law your accident will fall under, call an experienced maritime injury lawyer today.

Four Methods of Compensation

Depending upon the conditions of your overseas accident, you might be awarded compensation under either federal maritime law or state personal injury law. Knowledgeable maritime lawyers will be able to guide you through this difficult process and assist you in determining what rights you have specific to the conditions of your offshore injury.

The four techniques of compensation are:

  • The Jones Act
  • The Death on High Seas Act (DOHSA)
  • Longshoremen & Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA)
  • General Maritime Law

The Jones Act

The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, also referred to as the Jones Act, is a federal statute that extends the Federal Employer's Liability Act (FELA) to seamen. The Jones Act makes it possible for seamen that have been hurt while working at sea to bring a personal injury claim against their employers. Under this act, the hurt worker can bring an action in either federal or state court. While basic maritime law does not include the right to trial by jury, the Jones Act does. Although some claims can be settled in the course of pre-litigation negotiation, the only way you can maintain your rights to pursue a claim is to submit a lawsuit.

The Death on High Seas Act (DOHSA)

The Death on High Seas Act (DOHSA) specifies that when someone passes away because of either a wrongful act, negligence, or default that took place while on high seas beyond three nautical miles from the coast of the United States, a civil suit can be brought against the individual or vessel responsible. The action will solely benefit the deceased's partner, parent, child, or dependent relative.

Longshoremen & Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA)

The Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA) is a federal law that offers the payment of compensation, medical care, and professional rehab services to employees disabled from on the job injuries that occur on the navigable waters of the United States or in nearby areas customarily used in the loading, unloading, fixing or building of a vessel. The LHWCA also provides payment of survivor benefits to dependents if the work injury causes or contributes to the death of the worker. These benefits are usually paid by the self-insured employer or by a private insurance provider on behalf of the company. The term "injury" includes occupational diseases, hearing loss, and illnesses taking place out of employment. The LHWCA covers all workers that hold conventional maritime positions, like ship-repairs, shipbuilders, ship-breakers, harbor construction employees, and longshore workers.

General Maritime Law

General maritime laws were originally developed to establish the rights of maritime employees prior to the Jones Act or the Longshore and Harbor Employees' Compensation Act were developed. Its fundamental arrangements ensure that maritime employees are offered general living expenses and medical costs after suffering an injury and that the shipowners provide a safe workplace.

General maritime law does not just cover injuries but also illnesses you may get while on the job. Unlike the Jones Act, which states your injury must be the result of unseaworthiness or negligence, under general maritime law, the accident could be your fault or no one's fault, and you may still be entitled to Maintenance and Cure.

Maintenance and Cure

Under general maritime law, an employer is required to provide an injured maritime employee with Maintenance and Cure benefits till they are able to work again or have reached Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI).

"Maintenance" describes an employer's duty to provide an injured employee with food and lodging while the seaman is off the vessel and not able to work due to the injury or disease. "Cure" describes medical professionals and hospital bills, diagnostic tests and scans, prescriptions, and rehabilitation and therapy.

You do not need to show fault to recuperate Maintenance and Cure. When filing a claim, the exact same restriction periods apply as a Jones Act negligence claim.

Unseaworthiness

The word "unseaworthiness" is a term in the realm of maritime law, and its significance in maritime law somewhat varies from its significance in the marine industry.

Under maritime law, a seaworthy vessel is a ship whose hull, equipment, and crew are fairly appropriate in design, maintenance, and character to perform their intended functions in the operation of the ship.

Unseaworthiness does not imply that the vessel is unable to be sailed or navigated. A vessel is unseaworthy in regards to a seaman if it does not supply him with safe and suitable appliances with which to perform his work and if it does not provide him a safe place in which to work.

The injured maritime worker does not need to prove that the whole vessel was unseaworthy or that it remained in threat of sinking. All that the hurt worker needs to show is that some condition or element of the vessel, equipment, or crew was not fairly suitable for its intended function, and they were injured as a result. For example, if the engine breaks down and the vessel is sitting in the water until the engine can be repaired, the captain might think that it is unseaworthy, but that does not make the vessel unseaworthy for maritime law purposes.

If a seaman is injured or passes away because of an unseaworthy condition, the seaman (or his surviving family) will be entitled to compensation from the owner of the vessel. The kinds of damages that will be offered in an unseaworthiness claim consist of pain and suffering, medical bills, lost earnings (present and future), compensation for disability, and other damages under maritime law.

What Damages Are Covered?

There are many different kinds of damages that may be covered under your maritime injury case. These damages differ for each individual case; however, a lot of compensation for maritime injuries consists of:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional and mental suffering
  • Disfigurement (in proper situations)
  • Medical costs
  • Living expenditures
  • Lost earning, as well as future lost earning ability

Maritime injury law is extremely complicated. It remains in your best interest to consult a knowledgeable maritime lawyer in order to receive the maximum compensation for your injury.

Common Mistakes Seaman Make With Settlement

As soon as you've been hurt on the job, insurance adjusters and even your employer will begin the process of attempting to pay the least amount possible for your injuries. It's important to take your time when signing and filling out documents, as you can be misinformed to sign something that prevents you from getting what you are entitled to. For instance, if you have been hurt on the job, you have the right to maintenance and cure regardless of the way the accident took place and who is at fault. In addition, you may also have rights under general maritime law for pain, suffering, lost income, living expenditures, and more.

Insurance companies, even in the maritime industry, are known for attempting to settle low with injured workers and save as much money as they can. A knowledgeable maritime injury lawyer knows these strategies and will ensure that all your rights are being fulfilled before you sign any paperwork. Furthermore, there is a possibility that your injuries may get blamed on pre-existing conditions or because of fault of your own, which usually gets companies off the hook for liability. These circumstances are among a few of the approaches that employers and insurance companies perform in order to get out of paying you what you deserve. As a result, you must fully understand how general maritime law works and what you are rightfully entitled to prior to signing any documents. In fact, it is in your best interest to have your attorney look over all of your documents prior to signing anything in order to even the playing field against your employer and the insurance company.

Proven Maritime Results

The attorneys at The Cochran Firm have secured over $35 billion in verdicts, settlements, and judgments for our clients. While no claim is guaranteed to result in millions of dollars, we can guarantee that our attorneys will do whatever it takes to make sure you are compensated for every cent you are due. We have helped clients across the country receive the justice they deserve:

  • $5.98 Million Verdict against Xcaret and eco-archaeological park in Cancun, Mexico, on behalf of the family and estate of the passenger aboard a Carnival cruise line ship.
  • Undisclosed Verdict/Settlement against a drilling rig and an oil company when a Jones Act seaman fell from an elevated platform of a semi-submersible drilling rig. The 46-year-old plaintiff was restricted to sedentary activities after undergoing multiple surgeries on his wrist and arthroscopic surgery on both knees.

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