As a major port, Houston is home to thousands of longshoremen and ship workers. Many more reside in cities and towns along the Texas Gulf Coast.
Demand for dock workers and ship workers is steady, and the maritime industry is seen as a secure source of jobs. However, it is also a physically demanding industry with many potential dangers and risks. Exhaustion, stress, inadequate training, and improper safety protocols can contribute to a skyrocketing rate of serious injury or even death on the job, well beyond what can be expected for work of that nature.
Longshoremen and ship workers are frequently injured as a consequence of lifting and transporting cargo or accidents with heavy equipment, but due to the nature of the work, there are a number of complex or stressful ship- or dock-related operations that could lead to an accident. Weather and environmental conditions, as well as close proximity to water, can complicate matters even further.
Common dangers in the maritime industry
Ship workers and dock workers, including longshoremen, may experience injuries in the workplace that range from minor to debilitating. These injuries are most commonly due to:
Even repetitive stress or improper lifting techniques can cause strains, back injuries, or damage to the joints that can interfere with a maritime worker’s ability to perform job duties. Workers compensation provides limited coverage at best, and none at all for employees classed as ship workers. Injury claims for workers in the maritime industry are subject to separate laws and protections.
No single law applies to all types of maritime workers, however. Longshoremen and other dock workers are not covered by the same legislation as ship workers, so it is important to understand the differences between them.
The Longshore & Harbor Workers Compensation Act (LHWCA)
The LHWCA offers protections for longshoremen and other dock workers who suffer injuries not specifically covered by workers compensation or other state laws. If you experience a job-related illness or injury and are not able to work, the LHWCA provides benefits to cover medical and living expenses until you are able to return to your job.
If your injury or illness was a result of negligence on the part of the company or supervisors, though, you may be entitled to compensation for any damages that are not covered under the LHWCA. This is especially important in cases where you may be facing a prolonged period of disability, or when the outcome of your recovery is uncertain.
The Jones Act
The Jones Act is sometimes referred to as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920. This law was passed to provide protections for employees who spent at least 30% of their working time aboard a navigable, seagoing vessel and are injured on the job through no fault of their own. While the Jones Act can allow ship workers on any seaworthy vessel to receive necessary compensation regardless of whether their craft is at sea or in port at the time of the accident, it is especially critical for accidents that occur while the vessel is at sea. Workers compensation is handled at the state level, not by a single federal program. As a result, ship workers who are injured onboard are not eligible to file workers compensation claims, since a seagoing vessel is generally considered to be operating outside of state lines.
Fortunately, the Jones Act offers a safety net that may help offset this risk. Damages awarded under the Jones Act can actually provide more coverage than a traditional workers compensation claim, which typically compensate for medical expenses only. The flip side of this expanded coverage is that cases covered by the Jones Act are handled more like personal injury suits than workers compensation claims. Ship workers can be awarded damages for lost wages or claims of emotional distress due to the injury, for instance, but the resolution process is similar to a personal injury lawsuit rather than a simple claim through an employer. Under the Jones Act, ship workers must also prove that their employer bears responsibility for the accident.
Finding the right attorney in Texas
In order to resolve these cases successfully and get the compensation that you deserve, you need an attorney with a strong understanding of maritime law in general, and of the LHWCA and the Jones Actin particular. This knowledge is critical to a successful outcome, since every aspect of a maritime case is affected by the distinctive limitations, expansions, and processes characteristic of maritime law. Inexperienced lawyers are often quickly overwhelmed by these legal complexities, but veteran attorneys know how to leverage the unique considerations of maritime law to ensure a better long-term result for you.
If you are a longshoreman or ship worker who has been injured on the job in Texas, call or visit the offices of Bivona Law in downtown Houston to discuss your case. Consultations are free.
It costs nothing to talk! And just to remind you, we only get paid if you get paid.