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March 2017

Washington Maritime Accident Laws

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Washington is the permanent residence of many maritime workers, who access the water and their vessels from the state’s many ports. While working as a maritime worker may have its advantages, it is a highly dangerous job, leading to countless injuries every year.

Because most of these injuries occur on the “high seas,” understanding who is liable for maritime accidents and who has jurisdiction over these accident types can be confusing. At the law offices of the Khan Law Firm, we help injured maritime workers and their families in Washington seek the compensation that they deserve after an accident. To learn more, please call our law firm today for your free consultation.

Common Types of Maritime Accidents

Working in the maritime industry is inherently dangerous, and every year, numerous workers suffer catastrophic injuries as a result of errors and negligence. Some of the most common types of maritime accidents and injuries include:

  • Oil rig explosions and machinery accidents;
  • Fires;
  • Slip and falls;
  • Drowning and near-drowning accidents;
  • Tugboat injuries;
  • Crush injuries from cargo loading and transport errors;
  • Amputation injuries caused by defective or heavy machinery, equipment, or cargo; and
  • Lacerations and burns from fires, explosions, equipment malfunctions, and more.

These accident and injury types can be severe enough to cost a maritime worker their life, or significantly change it. An affected worker may be unable to return to work, care for themselves, or even do basic things that they once loved, such as go for a walk.

Who Is Liable for Maritime Accidents and What is the Jones Act?

While Washington may have many ports and hundreds of maritime workers, it is important to note that state law alone does not govern liability for maritime accidents, as it does with many other workplace and personal injury types. Instead, the Jones Act, which is a piece of federal legislation, provides some protection for maritime workers who are injured at sea.

One of the biggest differences between the Jones Act and other workers’ compensation laws throughout the country is that the in order for an injured maritime worker to receive compensation under the act, they must bring forth a negligence-based claim against their employer or liable party. In traditional workers’ compensation claims, workers are paid for their injuries regardless of fault, and are barred from bringing forth negligence-based actions. A negligence claim can be brought forth when an employer does anything that is outside of the reasonable standard of care that is required to provide for workers’ safety, such as the failure to properly train workers, provide maritime workers with the necessary equipment to do their jobs, or failure to provide equipment that is working properly and is maintained on a regular basis. A worker only needs to prove that the employer’s negligence played a part in the causation of their accident and injuries in order to hold the employer liable for damages.

Another difference is that while workers’ compensation applies to nearly all workers, the Jones Act only covers maritime workers who are “seamen.” In order to be a seaman, a worker must generally be a worker on a vessel that operates in navigable waters, and must perform work that is directly related to that vessel’s purpose and operation.

Right to Maintenance and Cure

There is another provision of maritime law that more closely resembles workers’ compensation systems of compensation – this is known as a maritime worker’s right to maintenance and cure. An injured seaman is entitled to these benefits regardless of negligence, so long as their injury or illness was sustained during the course of their employment.

The right to maintenance means the right to room and board while the seaman is recovering from injuries. If the seaman is at sea, then the vessel must provide this; if the seaman is not at home, then the employer should pay for things such as the worker’s rent, utilities, and food while they are recovering.

The right to cure, on the other hand, refers to the right of the maritime worker to seek compensation for the full value of all necessary and reasonable medical expenses associated with treating the injury. Both maintenance and cure must be paid to the seaman, by the employer, regardless of fault, until the seaman reached maximum medical improvement, or the point where they will not recover further.

Death on the High Seas Act

Another maritime law that may affect those who have lost a loved one in a maritime accident is the Death on the High Seas Act. This act allows surviving family members of a maritime worker to file a claim against a negligent employer for damages related to the loved one’s death.

Steps to Take after a Maritime Accident

Knowing what steps to take after a maritime accident can help preserve your right to seek damage and recover the full value of your compensation amount. Some things to do include:

  • Seek medical care. You should seek medical care as soon as possible after your maritime accident, and make sure that this care is properly documented.
  • Inform your employer of the accident. You should inform your employer of the accident as soon as you are physically able to do so. This is true regardless of whether you plan on seeking compensation under a no-fault, or negligence-based, system of recovery.
  • Document what happened. Take time to write down exactly what you were doing at the time of the accident and what you believe caused the accident. If anyone witnessed your accident, write down their names and contact information, as well as some notes about what they saw.
  • Contact an attorney. You should contact an attorney immediately. Maritime law is very complicated, and understanding how to recover compensation can be elusive. If you wait too long to file a claim and bring forth an action, you may be barred from damages entirely. Act now.

Call Khan Law Firm Today

At the Khan Law Firm, we are here to help you navigate the waters of maritime law and recover the compensation you deserve. If you are ready to take action, use our online form to schedule your free consultation with our experienced Washington maritime lawyers today. You can also call our offices directly.