Being surrounded on three sides by water makes Florida one of the busiest states when it comes to maritime activity. And despite ongoing supply chain issues and other disruptions related to the Covid-19 pandemic, Miami-Dade officials announced that Port Miami experienced its busiest cargo year in history in 2021. Over one million cargo containers passed through South Florida’s largest port that year, and it couldn’t have happened without all the necessary port, dock, and vessel workers who contributed to that incredible feat.
If you’re a maritime worker in Florida, whether it’s working with your feet on solid land or spending most of your time out at sea, you should make sure to understand how your workers’ compensation rights are different from those who hold more “traditional” jobs. Having a career in a field with more “high-risk” factors involved makes it that much more important to understand what your workers’ comp rights are should you be injured while on the job.
Common Maritime Work Environment Injuries
A maritime injury is specifically an injury that occurs when a “seaman” is injured while working for their employer. These kinds of individuals can include fishermen, longshoremen, harbor workers, and sometimes even passengers.
With an increase in general port activity comes the potential for spikes in associated maritime accidents and injuries. Cargo ship crews, dock workers, crane operators, and more are exposed to a large number of hazards in these types of environments, the least of which being that they’re often surrounded by deep ocean water.
The nature of harm that these types of employees might suffer varies depending upon the position and tasks involved, but they often fall into these three categories:
- Crane Operators: Injuries can result from defective equipment or a failure of equipment if not properly maintained; failure on the company’s part to properly train employees; or improper loading of the crane. These scenarios can often lead to injuries from crushing, like broken bones, traumatic brain injuries (TBI), or spinal cord injuries.
- Mooring Lines: If there’s a failure to comply with specific safety regulations, it can lead to trip-and-fall injuries. But the largest threat to employees specifically handling mooring lines are most often the threat of falling overboard and drowning.
- Docks and Loading: Most shipments that come in are large and heavy. This cargo can become unbalanced if it’s not packed, handled, or unloaded properly, which can cause accidents to the dock workers handling them. These types of injuries can include lacerations, broken bones, TBI, spinal cord injury, and burning or inhalation of hazardous materials if relevant.
Even if your particular position might not precisely fit into one of the above categories, you could still be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits if you’re injured at your maritime-related job. And that’s because these laws and precedents change as circumstances arise.
Special Circumstances for Maritime Workers
In the U.S., special circumstances for maritime workers first arose in 1920 with the Jones Act, which is also sometimes referred to as the Merchant Marine Act. This Act was developed and passed in response to the specific health and safety concerns experienced by many “marine merchants” and sailors in the early 20th century, and has since evolved to encompass a much larger scope of maritime workers.
Prior to the Jones Act, seafaring workers had few options for filing claims or lawsuits when they were injured while working for their employers out at sea. But as this sector of the working community grew, the innate dangers of their jobs became evident, and so did their need for benefits in the event of injury or illness. That being the case, a special set of “rules” has now been established for maritime workers to file a successful claim, the most important being the need to prove that negligent or “unseaworthy” action occurred during the normal parameters of their job that resulted in injury. Some examples of this may include:
- Being required to work in severe or unsafe weather conditions
- A failure to provide safe equipment or proper maintenance, including of vessels
- A failure to follow safety rules or provide a safe work environment
- Being required to work excessively long hours
- A failure to hire a competent captain or crew, or properly train them as needed
- A failure to provide the appropriate and necessary attire or gear needed by employees
- Insufficient medical treatment in the face of an injury or thereafter
“Unseaworthiness” is a category all on its own as well, as it specifically applies to the circumstances and equipment most often held and used by maritime workers. Some examples of items that could be considered “unseaworthy” are:
- Faulty equipment or defective tools
- Insufficient crew (in numbers or competency)
- Broken deck boards
- Fluids or oils that cause slippery conditions
- Obstructions that cause tripping hazards
- The absence of proper or sufficient lifesaving equipment
Your Workers’ Comp Options as a Maritime Employee
In addition to regulations surrounding the Jones Act, accidents at ports, on boats, and in associated spaces are primarily covered by the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA). This is a statute that establishes the system for federal workers’ comp, but offers additional advantages to maritime workers who qualify. If the employee and their injuries are found to quality under the LHWCA, they may be eligible to:
- Obtain benefits to cover expenses for all related medical treatments, including emergency care, surgeries, hospitalizations, prescription drugs, ongoing treatments like therapy and rehabilitation, and more.
- Receive payment for lost wages while recovering and unable to work, often at the rate of two-thirds the employees average weekly wages.
- Receive disability payments if the injury or medical condition suffered disables them from working on either a temporary or permanent basis.
- Receive death benefits (for the surviving family members) if their loved one becomes deceased as a result of the injury or illness they suffered.
Because there are more unusual job titles, laws, and overall circumstances involved with maritime injuries and how workers’ compensation is awarded in the face of them, it’s always wise to seek the help of a professional if you plan to file a claim or a lawsuit. The right workers’ compensation attorney will have an intricate knowledge of both Florida state laws and workers’ comp benefits, and will understand what you may or may not qualify for based on your injuries and how they happened.
And determining how your injuries happened will be the key to filing a successful claim. The process requires thorough investigation that involves examining the scene where your accident happened, taking ample photographs and other evidence, gathering eyewitness statements or video recordings where applicable, inspection of any involved machinery or equipment by the proper professionals, and a thorough understanding of your injuries and the coverage you’ll need to properly treat them.
Making sure that the benefits you receive for workers’ compensation actually provide the full coverage you and your family need after you suffer an injury requires a lot of time and energy. But those are two important items you may not have enough f when you’re in the midst of trying to recover from your accident. So let The Whisler Law Firm help. We are an experienced team serving clients across the entire state of Florida, and have practiced in the fields of both personal injury and workers’ compensation for decades. Let’s figure out how we can help you by scheduling a free consultation. Call our office at 833-529-5677 or fill out our online form to get started.