Workers in the maritime industry face some of the highest risks of being injured on the job compared to other fields of employment. Maritime law recognizes the hazards that seamen and maritime employees face. The law provides them with the rights to seek extensive compensation and benefits when injured or develop an occupational illness due to their employer’s negligence, or the negligence or unseaworthiness of the vessel’s owner-operator.
In the bustling coastal city of Houston with its ship channel, where commerce and industry converge along the Gulf of Mexico, the maritime sector plays a critical role in driving economic growth and international trade. From offshore oil drilling to international trade and shipping, Houston’s maritime industry is vast and diverse, presenting unique challenges and legal complexities. If you have a maritime injury claim, you need a Houston maritime injury lawyer to navigate the intricate waters of maritime law.
For more than 25 years, The Callahan Law Firm’s Houston maritime injury attorneys have fought to secure maximum compensation for our clients who have maritime injury cases. Maritime claims are complex and require specialized knowledge and experience to navigate effectively. We understand the difficulties that offshore injury victims face when seeking compensation from employers, vessel owners, and insurance companies. That’s why we take a specialized approach, limiting the number of cases we take on so that we can give you and your case the full attention and effort you deserve.
We bring extensive knowledge and experience to every case we handle. Our team comprehensively understands the unique legal principles governing maritime activities, including the Jones Act, general maritime law, the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, and international conventions. Founding attorney Michael S. Callahan has an engineering background and is board-certified in Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. If you need to hire a maritime injury lawyer, you can trust that we have the experience, ability and resources to handle even the most complex maritime injury cases.
Learn more about the compensation and benefits you may be entitled to for your maritime injury case in Houston. Contact our personal injury law firm today to set up a free initial case review with a skilled Houston maritime lawyer.
Understanding Maritime Law
Maritime law comprises different federal statutes as well as common law. Those statutes and laws give people who are injured on sea vessels or in maritime facilities the right to pursue compensation when the negligence of employers or vessel/facility owners and operators causes their injuries.
- Injuries on land – Injuries to maritime workers that occur at shore-based maritime facilities, such as drydocks, cargo facilities, and ports, are usually covered under the Longshore & Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. Although in many instances, an injury is caused by the negligence of a third-party which gives rise to a separate cause of action against the company and its employee who caused the incident and injury.
- Injuries in navigable waters – The Jones Act covers injuries to maritime workers that occur on the navigable waters of the United States. Injuries to workers on sea-based facilities, such as offshore drilling platforms, can be covered by the Jones Act or by statutory extensions to the Longshore & Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act depending on the particular facility. In sum, a worker’s rights are dependent on the type of vessel the maritime worker was on at the time they was injured.
- Injuries in the harbor – Depending on the exact circumstances of the accident and the injured worker, the Jones Act or the Longshore & Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act may apply.
Common Accidents and Injuries Suffered by Maritime Workers in Houston
Maritime workers in the Houston and Gulf Coast areas are exposed to a range of hazardous conditions and activities that can lead to various types of injuries. Some common maritime accidents and injuries include:
- Slip and falls: Slippery decks, unsecured equipment, and unstable surfaces can contribute to slip and fall accidents, resulting in injuries such as sprains, fractures, head injuries, and back injuries.
- Crush injuries: Working on vessels like offshore oil rigs often involves the use of heavy equipment, machinery, and cargo. Accidents involving being caught between or under heavy objects can lead to severe crush injuries, including broken bones, internal injuries, and amputations.
- Repetitive motion injuries: Maritime workers may perform repetitive tasks, such as lifting, pulling, or operating equipment over extended periods. This can lead to musculoskeletal injuries, including sprains, strains, tendonitis, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Burns and chemical exposure: Workers are exposed to combustible liquids and gases as well as hazardous chemicals that can cause burn injuries and respiratory injuries. All too workers involved in these type incidents are tragically left to deal with severe burns that have permanent, life-altering consequences.
- Back and neck injuries: Heavy lifting, repetitive motions, and working in awkward positions can contribute to back and neck injuries among maritime workers. These injuries can range from herniated discs to spinal cord injuries resulting in paralysis.
- Drowning and near-drowning: Given the nature of their work around water, maritime workers face the risk of drowning or near-drowning incidents. These accidents can occur due to falls overboard, vessel accidents, or hazardous weather conditions.
- Head and traumatic brain injuries: Maritime workers can suffer head injuries from falls, being struck by objects, and crush type injuries. Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) can range from concussions to severe brain injuries involving brain bleeds which can have permanent long-term effects on cognitive function, executive function, memory and more.
- Hearing loss: Exposure to high levels of noise, especially in engine rooms and near heavy machinery, is common in maritime work. Prolonged exposure to loud noises can result in hearing loss and other auditory problems.
It’s important to note that this list is not exhaustive, and the specific injuries can vary depending on the type of maritime work being performed and the circumstances of the accident. If you or someone you know has been injured in a maritime accident, consult with a maritime lawyer in Houston at The Callahan Law Firm, your local offshore injury lawyers.
What Is the Jones Act?
The Jones Act, formally called The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, provides legal protections and benefits under admiralty law to persons working as seamen aboard vessels who are injured due to unseaworthiness of the vessel or other acts of negligence that occur aboard a vessel in navigable waters. The Jones Act was intended to ensure that maritime workers received compensation when they suffered injuries or illnesses due to accidents or exposure on board the vessels on which they served. However, unlike a workers’ compensation claim under Texas law or the laws of other states, the Jones Act provides injured maritime workers with a much broader array of benefits.
What are Your Rights Under the Jones Act?
Traditional state workers’ compensation laws provide injured or ill workers with medical care for work-related injuries or illnesses. Those workers get disability benefits for permanent injuries and partial wage replacement if they miss time from work.
The Jones Act provides injured maritime workers several other benefits, not all of which are available under state workers’ compensation laws.
JONES ACT BENEFITS CAN INCLUDE:
- Medical care for work-related injuries and illnesses
- Living expenses during the period of recovery
- Lost wages
- Loss of future earning capacity due to permanent injuries and disabilities
- Compensation for pain and suffering, physical impairment, and mental anguish
The Jones Act gives injured or ill maritime workers the right to file a lawsuit to recover compensation and benefits for injuries and illnesses that arise when working aboard a vessel in navigable waters due to the negligence of the vessel’s owner, operator, or another employee of the owner or operator. It also provides an injured seaman with the right to make a claim and recover compensation based on unseaworthiness of a vessel.
In addition, the Jones Act establishes the principle of “maintenance and cure,” which requires employers to provide injured seamen with necessary medical treatment (cure) and a daily living allowance (maintenance) during their recovery period. This obligation continues until an injured seaman reaches maximum medical improvement or until the injured seaman is fit to return to work.
Because the Jones Act requires vessel owners and operators to provide seaworthy vessels, the statute effectively protects several important rights of maritime workers:
- The right to a reasonably safe work environment
- The right to bring a lawsuit to recover compensation for injuries and illnesses caused by someone’s negligence
- The right to compensation for medical care, costs of return to shore, living expenses, and lost wages
- The right to lost compensation if one’s vessel is deemed unseaworthy
- The right to punitive damages when one’s employer refuses payment of benefits the maritime worker is entitled to
- The right to choose jurisdiction by allowing seamen to bring their claims in federal court, where they can potentially obtain more favorable legal remedies compared to state courts
If you or a loved one were injured while working as a seaman – as a member of the crew of a vessel – and believe you may have a Jones Act claim, contact our Houston law office today, and our experienced maritime injury lawyers can help you hold the vessel owners, operators and other responsible parties respsonsible.
What Is the Longshoremen & Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act?
The Longshoremen & Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) provides workers’ compensation benefits to employees who are not seamen, such as those who work on loading, unloading, crafting, and repairing maritime vessels. Maritime workers covered by the statute include longshoremen, harbor workers, ship repairmen, and shipbuilders.
The LHWCA also covers some workers aboard vessels in navigable waters. The LHWCA obligates employers to compensate employees whose work-related injury or illness requires medical treatment, causes them to miss work, or necessitates vocational rehabilitation. The LHWCA also provides survivor benefits to the families of maritime workers killed on the job.
Various federal statutes have further extended the scope of the LHWCA to other kinds of workers, including private employees working on military bases or other government property under contract to the government and offshore drilling workers on the Outer Continental Shelf of the U.S.
Government employees and workers who are otherwise covered by state workers’ compensation laws are excluded from the scope of the LHWCA. Workers who directly aid in the mission of a seagoing vessel are instead covered by the Jones Act.
Your Rights Under the Longshoremen & Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act
If you are a worker covered by the LHWCA, you have the right to receive certain types of benefits for a work-related injury or illness, including:
- Reasonable and necessary medical treatment
- Temporary partial wage replacement equal to two-thirds of your average weekly wage while recovering from your injury or illness
- Disability benefits, the amount of which depends on the scope of your disability and whether you have reached maximum medical improvement for your disability
- Vocational rehabilitation if you require assistance in acquiring new skills or finding suitable employment due to your serious injuries
A family of a covered worker killed on the job also has the right to receive survivor benefits, including contributions toward funeral and burial expenses and partial replacement of the worker’s wages.
What Is the Death on the High Seas Act?
A federal law enacted in 1920, the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA), enables the families of seamen killed in international waters to recover under a wrongful death claim. The statute also allows recovery for families whose loved ones are killed in air disasters that occur over the high seas.
In addition to protecting maritime workers on vessels on the high seas, DOHSA also provides a right of action for the families of passengers on maritime vessels who are killed while the vessel is past the three-mile territorial limit of the U.S. coast.
Your Rights Under the Death on the High Seas Act
DOHSA allows you and your family to file a wrongful death suit against the owner or operator of a maritime vessel when your loved one suffers fatal injuries due to the owner or operator’s negligence, recklessness, or intentional actions while the vessel is located in international waters. Examples of negligence might include failing to conduct adequate safety inspections, maintaining sufficient lifeboats or other safety equipment aboard, or properly maintaining the vessel in a seaworthy condition and allowing unsafe conditions to persist for those onboard.
Successfully proving negligence or recklessness will allow your family to recover compensation for damages such as:
- The loss of your loved one’s economic contributions to your family and household
- The loss of your loved one’s society, companionship, and the value of their household work
- Your loved one’s funeral and burial expenses
- The cost of your loved one’s last injury or illness
- Conscious pain and suffering experienced by your loved one prior to their death
Understanding the Limitation of Liability Act
Although the above maritime statutes and other admiralty laws impose liability on the owners and operators of sea vessels and maritime facilities for work injuries and occupational illnesses suffered by maritime workers and for wrongful deaths that occur aboard their vessels, many vessel owners and operators may turn to the Limitation of Liability Act to try to avoid financial liability to injured workers or the families of deceased seamen and passengers.
The Limitation of Liability Act (LOLA) allows the owner-operator of a sea vessel to limit its liability under the Jones Act, the LHWCA, DOHSA, or other general maritime law for injuries, illness, or death caused by the unseaworthy condition of the vessel if that unseaworthy condition occurred without the knowledge of the owner or operator of the vessel. Specifically, the Act limits a vessel owner’s liability to the value of the vessel and its “freight then pending” at the time that a claimant’s loss occurred.
The Act was enacted in the mid-19th century when ocean-based commerce represented a far more dangerous proposition due to weather, piracy, commerce raiding, and other hazards at sea that have largely been rendered obsolete in modern times. Critics of the Act argue that the hazards no longer exist.
Injured maritime workers or the families of those killed aboard vessels in international waters who may have a claim for compensation under maritime law may have their lawsuits consolidated into one action if a vessel owner files suit under the Act to limit its liability.
How Does the Limitation of Liability Act Affect Maritime Injury Claims?
The Limitation of Liability Act affects maritime injury claims in Houston, the Gulf Coast and elsewhere by allowing shipowners to limit their liability for a claim to the value of the vessel and its cargo in various ways, such as:
- Right to limit liability: Under the LOLA, a shipowner or vessel operator can file a petition in federal court to limit their liability for damages arising from an incident where maritime law applies.
- Limitation fund: A limitation fund is created once a shipowner files a limitation petition. This fund consists of the value of the vessel and its pending freight and cargo. By depositing this fund with the court, the shipowner can limit their liability to that amount.
- Multiple claims: The LOLA allows multiple claimants, such as injured parties or the families of deceased victims, to file claims against the limitation fund. The court then determines the proportionate share of the fund that each claimant is entitled to based on the extent of their damages.
- Burden of proof: In limitation proceedings, the burden of proof shifts to the claimants to prove negligence and/or or unseaworthiness by the vessel owner. If successful, claimants can seek to overcome the limitation and pursue additional compensation beyond the limitation fund.
- Impact on compensation: The LOLA’s limitation of liability provision can significantly impact the amount of compensation available to maritime injury claimants. Suppose the limitation fund is insufficient to compensate all claimants fully. In that case, their recovery may be limited to a pro-rata share of the fund rather than the full extent of their damages.
The application of the Limitation of Liability Act can be complex and subject to interpretation. That’s why it is essential to have a maritime injury lawyer to navigate the LOLA’s provisions, overcome the limitation when possible, and pursue the maximum compensation available under the Jones Act and general maritime law. Consult with a Houston maritime injury lawyer with the experience, skill and resources needed to succeed with your maritime claim by contacting us today at the Callahan Law Firm.
How Long Do You Have to File a Claim After a Maritime Accident?
The time you have following a maritime accident to file a compensation claim depends on which statute your claim arises under.
- Jones Act – Three years from the date of your injury to file a lawsuit
- Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act – 30 days from the date of injury to provide your employer with notice of your injury and one year to file a formal claim with the U.S. Department of Labor
- Death on the High Seas Act – Three years from the date of your family member’s death to file a lawsuit
If you fail to file your claim or lawsuit timely, you may be deemed ineligible for benefits or compensation, and any formal claim you file will most likely be dismissed by the agency or the courts.
Keep in mind that each claim is different which is why it is essential to consult with an experienced maritime lawyer to determine the time limits that apply to your specific fact scenario and claim. If your claim is not filed timely, you may lose the right to make that claim and be compensated for the injuries and damages suffered. In sum, it is always best to take prompt action and consult with an attorney as soon as possible after a maritime accident. Contact a maritime attorney for guidance, protection of your rights, and to maximize your chances of a successful claim.
How Our Houston Maritime Attorneys Can Help You
Pursuing a maritime accident claim can often prove incredibly difficult. Vessel owners and operators and maritime employers will have their lawyers and law firms work quickly to limit the extent of their liability when seamen and workers are harmed due to the employer’s or vessel owner’s negligence, or because of unseaworthiness of a vessel.
That’s why it is so important to consult with and hire a Houston maritime injury attorney from The Callahan Law Firm to ensure you have the best chance at recovering the financial compensation you deserve after a maritime accident.
OUR FIRM CAN HELP YOU WITH YOUR MARITIME ACCIDENT CASE BY:
- Conducting a detailed, independent investigation into the circumstances of your accident and securing important evidence and documents we can use in your case.
- Identifying liable parties and potential sources of compensation (such as insurance coverage).
- Working with expert witnesses who can help us build a strong, persuasive case on your behalf.
- Filing a maritime injury claim on your behalf and aggressively negotiating for a settlement or resolution that provides you with the full compensation and benefits you deserve for your maritime case.
- Vigorously advocating your case in court if liable employers, maritime companies, or vessel owners refuse to agree to a settlement that gives you the fair financial recovery you deserve.
Schedule a free, no-obligation consultation today with a Houston maritime accident lawyer from The Callahan Law Firm. You will learn more about your legal rights and how our firm can help you pursue the full and fair compensation you deserve.
We work on a contingency fee basis, which means that you pay attorney’s fees and reimburse case expenses only if a financial recovery is made in your case. Do not hesitate to contact our experienced maritime injury law firm by phone or online now.
To protect your health and your rights, you should take the following steps after a maritime workplace accident:
- Seek medical attention immediately.
- Verbally notify your employer of the accident and injury as soon as possible.
- Report the accident to your employer in writing when you can, and keep a copy for yourself.
- Contact an experienced maritime workplace accident attorney to discuss your legal options, which may include a claim for negligence, unseaworthiness, maintenance and cure, or more, depending on your situation.
- Keep track of your time off from work and medical providers.
- Follow your physician’s treatment plan.
The legal team at The Callahan Law Firm handles personal injury claims in a wide range of workplace injury cases, including those that involve:
- Industrial accidents
- Manufacturing accidents
- Construction accidents
- Heavy equipment accidents
- Transportation accidents
- Commercial vehicle accidents
- Pipeline accidents
- Railroad worker accidents
- Oil field accidents including oil rig accidents
- Maritime accidents and other offshore accidents
While you can make a maritime workplace injury claim without the assistance of a lawyer, it can be a confusing and challenging process, especially if you are still recovering from injuries. An experienced maritime attorney can provide the guidance you need and handle the details of your claim to help you get the most compensation available under the law.