Frequently Asked Questions - Common Injuries and Illnesses in Personal Injury and Maritime Accidents
The seas, oceans, lakes, rivers and other waterways that cover two-thirds of the earth are a nearly endless source of recreation and work opportunities. Unfortunately they can also present significant hazards of injury, illness and even death. Knowing the law that effects your personal injury case for an incident that happens on the water is no simple task. What are some of the most common situations that you might find yourself in when you’re injured at sea.
The cruise ship industry is a huge juggernaut in today’s world. Ships keep getting bigger and bigger, and the entertainment and leisure options more diverse and spectacular. On today’s modern cruise ship, you can find yourself sliding down on a monstrous water slide, scaling a simulated mountain wall, shooting skeet, golfing, jogging on a track, or working out in a gym to name just a few of the leisure options. Of course, when all goes right it’s an exhilarating experience you’ll never forget. Of course, when things go wrong, it can also be an experience you won’t be able to get out of your mind. The chances of falling while you’re engaged in these leisure activities is greatly increased when you add the movement of the ocean and the alcoholic beverages many people enjoy on vacation. As a result of the falls, you’ll see knee injuries, shoulder injuries, herniated discs, lacerations, and even closed head injuries. Most cruise ships also have very modern medical care available, but of course they are no match for a state of the art hospital. The inability to receive immediate medical care that is available on land in major metropolitan areas can greatly complicate injuries and illnesses of all sorts.
Because of the increased hazards at sea, you obviously want to do whatever you can to reduce your risk of accident. Wear proper shoes, utilize hand railings, watch out for water on the deck, and generally act responsibly. You may have rights of recovery if you are injured due to somebody else’s negligence but the better outcome is to avoid injury altogether if you can.
Cruise ships are also subject to widespread illnesses. When you’re in a relatively small space with several thousand people, the chances of contracting an illness like Norovirus are greatly increased. Also, with many people eating the same food often in cafeteria settings, food poisoning is a real possibility for cruise passengers and crew alike.
Other common illnesses and injuries on cruise ships include Legionnaire’s Disease, toxic chemical exposure, fire related injuries, drownings and violent crimes. And when you’re on a shore excursion, anything is possible.
If you are injured on a cruise, your rights are going to be different. First of all, your ticket for the cruise includes a contract that defines and limits what you can sue for and how you go about it. There are also very specific federal laws that apply to cruise line lawsuits. Further, depending on the particular facts of your case and where you’re injured, your lawsuit may not be against the cruise line at all. When you’re at a port of call, the rights that you have are going to be determined by the state or country in which you are docked.
Other Recreational Maritime Injuries
A cruise ship and its various ports of call are not the only water hazards in a state like Florida. Every weekend, even every day, people sustain serious injuries while boating in Florida. The likelihood of accidents is greatly increased by a variety of factors. For example, unlike road traffic, there are no lanes on a lake. This issue is magnified by the large number of relatively inexperienced people who are piloting their weekend crafts. Some people, despite all warnings are going to be impaired by alcohol or drugs. Others just won’t be giving the helm the constant attention it deserves. When two boats collide, people aren’t wearing seat belts and the orthopedic injuries can be severe. Boat accidents also frequently lead to burns or drowning.
No less dangerous than a large cabin cruiser are jet skis. Although highly maneuverable, many people on these specialized craft are renting them for short periods of time and will have little or no expertise in how to handle them. Some areas can become extremely congested with jet skis and other watercraft, so that the proximity itself becomes a real danger. Concussions, broken wrists and ankles and spinal cord injuries are all possible Jet Ski injuries. You can sustain these and other injuries by running into another Jet Ski or boat, hitting a stationary object, or being thrown violently off the Jet Ski while plowing through choppy waters at high speeds.
Injured while working
If you are hurt while working on the navigable waters of the United States, your rights to file a claim are going to be determined by essentially two bodies of federal legislation. The first applies to an injured worker who qualifies as a “seaman”. A seaman is somebody who spends a significant amount of time working as either the captain or the crew of a vessel. If you are in this capacity, you don’t receive state workers’ comp benefits. As a injured “seaman”, you have a claim for negligence against your employer that is governed by the Jones Act. You may also have a separate case against them the person or company that owns the vessel for its lack of seaworthiness. And even if nobody is negligent as an injured worker, you are entitled to certain living expenses and medical care while recuperating from an injury. These benefits are commonly referred to as “maintenance and cure”.
If there is negligence by the owner or employer in a Jones Act case, then there are additional damages available to the injured seaman. This is true even if the percentage of fault for the owner or employer is very small.
Other people who work on or near navigable waters, who are not crew of a vessel, are going to often be entitled to benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Act. Like the Jones Act, the Longshore benefits are in place of and not in addition to state workers’ comp benefits. People covered under the Longshore Act include longshoremen and other loading/unloading assistants, ship repairman, shipbuilders, even those working on trucks that offload ships. Obviously with the large and heavy machinery involved in these jobs, the injuries can be catastrophic and even deadly. Not everyone who works at the shipyard is going to be entitled to these benefits. A secretary working in a marina office is an example of somebody who wouldn’t be covered by Longshore Act.
Also, you don’t really have to be on the water to be qualified for Longshore benefits. If you are near to or adjacent to the water, you might very well be covered by the Longshore Act. Modern shipyards and terminals can be huge, and a shipbuilder injured in office may find that he is entitled to benefits that somebody who normally works in that office is not entitled to.
Because of the variety of ways that one can suffer a maritime injury, it is difficult to imagine an injury that absolutely wouldn’t possibly be governed by maritime law. Maritime law can include all sorts of vehicle collisions, slips and falls, chemical exposures, burns, electric shocks, lacerations, amputations and even death. If it can happen on land, it can also probably happen at sea. The injuries may be very similar, but your rights of recovery may be very different depending on your status at the time you were injured and where you were injured. In order to determine what law governs your rights to recover for your injury, it is important to contact a lawyer who can steer you in the right direction.