Cruise Ship Safety for Children Questioned after Fatal Accident

Cruise ship safety for children is being questioned after a fatal accident claimed the life of an 8-year-old girl aboard the Carnival Glory.  Cruise ships are considered a safe way to travel and vacation, and are often targeted at families.  Unfortunately, accidents do occur on cruise ships, and due to the complexities of structure and sea, these accidents often lead to injuries.

In this post, we will discuss the recent fall accident and how it has increased the focus on safety and security aboard cruise ships, especially for children.  Anyone with questions about accidents or injuries occurring in the maritime industry can contact Brown & Brothers directly for more information.

Cruise Ship Accident ends in Tragedy, Raises Safety Concerns

In October 2017, as thousands of people prepared to disembark the Carnival Glory, an 8-year-old passenger fell over a railing five stories high.  After the fall, she was taken to the ships medical center, and was then transferred to a hospital.  Unfortunately, at the hospital, she died from her injuries.  Such a tragic and traumatic accident has certainly taken a toll on the child’s family and those onboard, but it has also raised concerns about the overall safety of cruise ships.

According to the Cruise Lines Industry Association (CLIA), passenger capacity increased by almost 42 percent between 2009 and 2016.  During that same time, the number of onboard accidents remained steady, and the fatality rate was a slight 0.15 per billion passenger miles traveled.  To offer comparison, worldwide airline fatality rates equal 0.09 per billion passenger miles traveled.

Based on this data, traveling by cruise ship would seem to be more dangerous statistically than traveling by air, but still much less dangerous than traveling by U.S.  highways, which have a fatality rate of 7.4 per billion miles traveled.

Cruise Ship Safety Regulations and Laws

In the U.S., cruise lines must abide by a series of federal and international laws and regulations.  This includes regulations and laws governed by the U.S.  Coast Guard, the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and the U.S.  Department of Transportation.  Each of these organizations has certain regulations and responsibilities related to accidents occurring at sea, including aboard cruise ships.

In terms of cruise ship and maritime safety, consider the following information about regulations and data gathered from these sources:

  • S. Department of Transportation: The U.S.  DOT collects incident reports from almost a dozen major cruise lines.  Between April and June 2017, the DOT reported 30 incidents on those cruise lines, including one missing person report and 19 sexual assaults.
  • National Transportation Safety Board: The NTSB has authority to investigate significant maritime accidents, including those occurring on cruise ships. The NTSB investigates and reports on serious accidents, such as a docking accident involving Carnival Pride in May 2016.
  • S. Coast Guard: The U.S.  Coast Guard manages all safety inspections on cruise ships bearing U.S.  flags, as well as those taking on passengers from U.S.  waters or ports.  Coast Guard requirements mandate that all cruise ships must meet national and international standards in terms of fire prevention, lifeboat adequacy, evacuation procedures, etc.  The Coast Guard also investigates serious incidents occurring in U.S., or territorial, waters.  Accidents that happen outside U.S.  waters are investigated by the jurisdiction where they occurred.

While these organizations regulate and uphold laws designed to protect travelers and maintain safety, there are some factors that may increase the risk of accidents occurring onboard cruise ships.  For example, cruise ships are not required to use building code inspectors in the same way that landlocked buildings are.  That means there are no inspections to ensure that cruise ships meet minimum standards for things like lighting, signage, step height, or architectural features.

Another area of concern is the fact that many cruise ships do not have active lifeguards on duty at their pools.  Some ships specifically catering to families or children have recently began to employ fulltime life guards, but many ships operate on a “swim at your own risk” basis.

Maritime Safety for Travelers

The U.S.  Coast Guard recommends anyone traveling on the water, whether it is a small boat or a massive cruise ship, take time to familiarize themselves with the basics of marine safety.  It is recommended that anyone traveling on a cruise ship do the following:

  • Familiarize yourself with vessel safety procedures and lifeboat locations
  • Review instructions on how to properly use life jackets or other safety gear
  • Participate in fire or “abandon-ship” drills, which are required weekly on cruise ships
  • Listen to, and review, all instructions from cruise ship staff
  • Follow safety protocols onboard a ship as you would on land, or at any given time
  • If traveling with children, never leave them without adult supervision

While you want the focus of your maritime adventure to be fun and relaxation, it is important to ensure that your family is safe and secure.

Getting Help after a Maritime Accident or Injury

If you or a family member have been injured while traveling on a cruise ship or while working in the maritime industry, you likely have many questions.  Who is at fault? What are my legal rights? Can I file a lawsuit to recover medical and other expenses? These are just a few of the most commonly asked questions about maritime accidents and injuries.

If you have questions about the maritime industry, related laws, or a specific accident or injury, contact Brown & Brothers to explore your legal rights and get answers to your questions.  Maritime injury law is complex, and our team has the knowledge and experience you need.  Fill out our online form today to get started.



How Dangerous are Heat-Related Illnesses?

While autumn has arrived on the calendar, many coastal areas of the United States are still battling unseasonably warm temperatures.  When temperatures are high, the risk of developing a heat-related illness increases, which begs the question – “How Dangerous are Heat-Related Illnesses?” Whether you work on a dock, in a warehouse, or in the hot confines of a seagoing vessel or oil rig, heat-related illnesses are a real, potentially disastrous concern.

Read on to learn more about heat-related illnesses, the real dangers, and what you can do to protect yourself.

Facts and Information about Heat Illnesses

If you work in the maritime industry, you may be aware of the risk of heat stroke, heat exhaustion, or other heat-related illnesses.  But do you know just how dangerous these illnesses really are? Let’s take a look at some facts:

  • Each year, heat-related illnesses kill more people than floods, lightning, hurricanes, or tornadoes combined.
  • According to OSHA, between 1999 and 2003, around 3,400 deaths were attributed to heat-related illnesses.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that, by mid-century, heat-related deaths could surge by 3,500 to 27,000 deaths per year.
  • Extreme heat puts a strain on your lungs and heart, and can cause serious medical emergencies or diseases to develop.

Heat-Related Illnesses and Dangers

Anyone who works in a hot or humid environment is vulnerable to heat-related illnesses.  This risk is even greater if your work entails heavy lifting, wearing heavy or bulky equipment, or are working in a confined space.  When your body cannot cool itself through sweating (or sweating enough), your internal temperature can rise to dangerous levels.  Heat illnesses include a variety of conditions that range from uncomfortable to life-threatening, such as:

  • Heat Rash: Also called “prickly heat”, heat rash occurs when sweat does not evaporate from the skin. Heat rash may cause clusters of red bumps that are irritating.  Clusters most commonly form on the upper chest, neck, or folds in the skin (joints, etc.).
  • Heat Cramps: When your body loses too much fluid and salt, your muscles may begin to cramp. Most common in the legs, arms, or abdomen, heat cramps can be incredibly painful and may be accompanied by muscle spasms.
  • Heat Exhaustion: Heat exhaustion occurs as a result of loss of fluids or salt through heavy sweating. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include nausea, headache, dizziness, irritability, excessive thirst, and heavy or uncontrollable sweating.
  • Heat Stroke: Heat stroke is the most dangerous heat illness. At this stage of illness, the body is no longer able to regulate internal temperatures, and can no longer sweat to shed excess heat.  Symptoms of heat stroke may include those associated with heat exhaustion, but escalates to include confusion, loss of consciousness, or seizures.

Any of these heat-related illnesses can exacerbate or be complicated by other factors.  It is incredibly important to protect yourself from heat-related dangers.

Employer Obligations and Safe Work Environments

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has specific guidelines for employers and employees to prevent injuries or deaths caused by heat exposure.  OSHA standards (29 CFR 1910) state the following:

  • Employers must perform a hazard assessment of any workplace to determine if personal protective equipment (PPE) is required for safety.
  • If PPE is required, employers are required to make PPE available, and ensure that it properly fits the employee and working environment.
  • If PPE is required, a PPE program should be created to address hazards, detail proper use and maintenance of PPE gear, train employees, and monitor program use and success.
  • PPE requirements and regulations vary depending on the work environment and classification (shipyard, marine terminals, longshoring, etc.).

If employers fail to adequately assess, prepare, and protect employees, they may be cited by OSHA under the “General Duty Clause”, which outlines the employer’s obligations to provide a safe working environment that is free of recognized hazards that are likely to cause harm, serious injury, or death.

If you have questions about heat-related illnesses and your legal rights, contact Brown & Brothers today.  Our maritime injury attorneys can help you understand the obligations of your employer, and what you can do if you have been injured as a result of an unsafe workplace or inadequate safety measures.

Know the Risks and Protect Yourself

Some of the best ways to prevent heat-related illnesses is to understand the risks, take adequate safety measures, and always put your health and wellbeing first.  To understand the risks and factors that increase risk, consider the following:

  • Heat Index: The heat index is not how hot it is outside on the thermometer, but rather how hot it feels. To calculate the heat index, meteorologists look at factors like air temperature, humidity, and wind conditions.  For example, if the air temperature is 95-degrees and the relative humidity is 80 percent, the heat index is 136-degrees Fahrenheit.  To better understand how dangerous the heat index is, consider this:
    • Heat Index 90-100: heat cramps, sun stroke, and heat exhaustion are possible with physical activity or prolonged exposure.
    • Heat Index 105-129: Heat cramps, sun stroke, and heat exhaustion are likely. Heat stroke is possible at this level with physical activity or prolonged exposure.
    • Heat Index 130 or Higher: Heat stroke or sun stroke is imminent.
  • Be Aware: When you are working, pay attention to how you feel, and how your co-workers feel. Never ignore symptoms of heat exhaustion or stroke, and do not try to “push through” any symptoms you do have.  By the time you experience symptoms, you may already be in danger.
  • Take Preventative Measures: Aside from protective gear, there are some things you can do to prevent heat-related illnesses, such as:
    • Drink plenty of water throughout the day
    • Rest in a shady location
    • Take breaks as often as needed or allowed
    • Limit time spent in the heat

Being aware, knowing the risks, and taking steps to protect yourself are the frontline against the dangers of heat-related illnesses.

If you have questions about heat-related illnesses and your legal rights as a maritime worker, contact Brown & Brothers to discuss your situation.  Fill out our simple online form to get more information, or to schedule a free case evaluation.







No Matter What Size Vessel, Boat Explosions Cost lives

Boats of all shapes and sizes are used around the United States for the purposes of trade, transportation, fishing, living, recreation, military, law enforcement, and numerous other purposes.  Two recent media reports highlight the unique complexities and dangers of boat explosions, which is what we will discuss in this article titled, “No Matter What Size Vessel, Boat Explosions Cost lives”.

Read on to learn more about how boat explosions on any size vessel can be devastating, as well as what you can do to stay safe and get help if injuries occur.  To find out more about your individual legal rights and maritime law, contact Brown & Brothers to discuss your case.

Boat Explosions Cost Lives

The type and severity of injuries suffered after a boat explosion vary greatly.  The severity of injuries often varies depending on how significant the explosion was, the source of ignition, and how directly those onboard were exposed to the explosion, flames, or debris.  Injuries may be minor, such as burns or small cuts, or may be catastrophic or even fatal.

Consider two recent examples that demonstrate just how dangerous boat explosions can be, and how no matter what size vessel or location, the dangers do not discriminate.

  • Large Vessel Example: Toward the end of April 2017, the news of an explosion off the coast of Cape Cod sent ripples throughout the maritime industry. An explosion in the front storeroom of bulk carrier Tamar claimed the lives of two people onboard, and severely burned several others.  Transporting cargo from Baltimore, Maryland to Azores, Portugal, the crew of Tamar was assisted by several agencies including the U.S.  Coast Guard, the New York Air National Guard, the Portuguese National Guard, and the Canadian Coast Guard.

The cause of the explosion was not immediately determined and was extinguished without catastrophic damage to the ship.  Investigations have been ongoing to determine the cause of the explosion, with preliminary reports suggesting a methane gas leak in the front storeroom moving to adjacent areas.  The gas could have been sparked by a variety of ignition sources, as many electrical fittings were not explosion proof.

  • Small Vessel Example: The size of the vessel does not equate with the level of danger should a boat explosion occur. Consider, for example, recent reports of an explosion aboard a house boat situated on Lake Powell.  The explosion reportedly occurred when someone onboard attempted to start a generator.  One person was killed in the explosion and four others were flown to nearby hospitals.  There were 25 people onboard at the time of the explosion.

Boat Explosion Accidents and Injuries

Whether you are working onboard a yacht, sailboat, houseboat, bulk carrier, fishing ship, oil rig, or any other unique maritime vessel, boat explosions are a very real concern.  While in some cases boat explosions are accidental, often times fires or explosions are caused by preventable or needless factors.  Some of the most common causes of boat explosions include:

  • Improper maintenance or use of equipment
  • Negligence in training or supervising those onboard
  • Defective or malfunctioning equipment
  • Electrical hazards, such as faulty or poorly managed wiring

Boat explosions also have unique complexities due to the fact that seagoing vessels may not be able to withstand damage caused by the explosion.  This presents another set of related dangers due to the possibility of the boat sinking.  For those onboard, this amplifies the dangers as they may be exposed to harsh weather conditions, cold water temperatures, or be vulnerable to drowning.

Getting Help After a Boat Explosion

If you work in the maritime industry, or are planning to be a passenger aboard a seagoing vessel, you may be particularly interested in what the law says about onboard hazards and how to get help if you are injured while onboard.  Federal laws, such as the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) and the Jones Act, offer specific guidance for maritime workers depending on their title and classification as a maritime worker.

Maritime laws are complex, and have unique elements that make working with an attorney vital.  Factors like the location of the accident, applicable state laws, classification of the vessel, and various factors directly related to the accident may all influence what laws apply to your case.  Anyone who has been injured while working onboard a seagoing vessel should contact a maritime law attorney to discuss their legal rights and any unique elements of their case.

At Brown & Brothers, our qualified attorneys are well versed in maritime and personal injury law.  We are well equipped to sort through the complexities of your case and determine the best course of action.  We have successfully navigated cases for clients throughout Texas and beyond, including cases involving defective products or employer negligence.  To learn more, fill out our online form and schedule your free case review.



What Maritime Workers Need to Know about Disability and Ability to Work

The maritime industry has many unique dangers and reports of workers being injured is not uncommon.  Whether you work on an oil rig or a shipyard, here is what maritime workers need to know about disability and ability to work after an on-the-job injury.

Workers in the maritime industry often worry about what would happen to their livelihood if they become injured or disabled.  Not only are workers’ compensation laws different for maritime workers, but navigating the waters of what “disability” versus “ability” to work means can be difficult.  Further, in the maritime industry, the work required is often strenuous.  What happens when an illness or injury causes you to be unable to return to that same position?

Disability versus Ability

There is no diagnosis for “disability”, which makes it difficult for someone who has been injured or become ill to understand their rights and what sort of protection they may be eligible for.  Two individuals with the exact same medical diagnosis of diabetes, for example, may be classified as disabled or not based on other factors.  What’s more, who gets to decide what qualifies as a disability warranting benefits?

The federal government considers someone disabled if he or she is unable to work due to a medical condition.  In most cases, however, it is a judgment call made by doctors and verified or refuted in courtrooms.  Some countries like the UK use “fit to work” tests to determine if someone is physically capable of returning to their jobs.  Ultimately, however, it is still a matter of judgment as the injured person is judged to be fit or not.  Falling somewhere in a gray area could leave individuals “fit to work” on paper, but actually physically unable to resume their employment as previously done.

More Americans on Disability than Ever

In recent decades, it seems that doctors and the government are more apt to classify someone as disabled, or maybe there are more conditions now considered disabilities.  Over the last three decades, the number of Americans receiving disability payments has increased significantly.  It is estimated now that each month, 14 million Americans get disability checks.  The breakdown of common causes of disability, and the causes growing, includes the following:

Condition: 1961 2011
·         Back pain and musculoskeletal problems 8.3% 33.8%
·         Mental illness and developmental disabilities 9.6% 19.2%
·         Heart disease and stroke 25.7% 10.6%
·         Cancer 8.3% 9.2%
·         Other 22.4% 7.7%

Another possible reason for the rise is doctors like one in rural Alabama who considers the overall condition of the individual when recommending him or her for disability.  For example, someone with a college degree and chronic back pain can likely find a reasonably accommodating job, whereas someone with a grade school education and chronic back pain likely would be undesirable – and thus, unhireable.

Determining Disability in the United States

Determining who is disabled is managed by the Social Security Administration (SSA).  The SSA uses a series of questions and guidelines when determining who is eligible for disability benefits.  The five questions found in the SSA Disability Planner include:

  1. Are you working? Individuals who are employed and make more than $1,130 per month generally cannot be considered disabled.
  2. Is your condition “severe”? The condition must interfere with work-related activities.
  3. Is your condition found in the list of disabling conditions? The SSA has a list of conditions that automatically equate with disability. Conditions that are not listed as decided on based on the severity and other factors.
  4. Can you do the work you did previously? If your condition is severe but does not interfere with your ability to do the same job you previously did, you may not be eligible for disability benefits.
  5. Can you do any other type of work? The SSA considers your overall health, age, education, and any experience or unique skills when determining whether you are able to secure another job.

Maritime Workers and Disability Benefits

Many workers in the maritime industry find that traditional workers’ compensation or disability benefits do not apply to them.  In such cases, maritime workers should explore their rights under The Jones Act and the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA), two laws that specifically protect the rights of maritime workers who have been injured on-the-job.

Rather than offering traditional disability benefits, these two laws provide coverage for what is known as maintenance and cure (general expenses and medical care expenses), along with other damages depending on your situation.  Some maritime workers find that their employers are eager to help them heal and return to work.  Other times, maritime workers must file a lawsuit in order to get the help and benefits they are entitled to.

In order to be protected under The Jones Act or the LHWCA, you must be classified as a seaman, longshoreman, harbor worker, or a worker in a shipyard, terminal, or dock area.  There are also certain guidelines related to the vessel or working conditions, time spent working onboard, etc.

The only way to really know what disability benefits you qualify for as a maritime worker is to contact an attorney.  To learn more about The Jones Act, the LHWCA, or SSA disability benefits as a maritime worker, contact Brown & Brothers today.  Fill out our online form to get in touch with one of our skilled Texas maritime injury attorneys.



String of Louisiana Lawsuits Highlight Seaman Injuries

March 2017 saw a string of Louisiana lawsuits that highlight seaman injuries common in the maritime industry.  At Maritime Injury Guide, we want to help our readers stay informed about cases like these to help them better understand the risks of working in the maritime industry, as well as their rights and options when an injury occurs.

Louisiana Lawsuits and Seaman Injuries

The Louisiana Record and other news sources have published information about three lawsuits that highlight different types of seaman injuries.  A brief summary of each of these lawsuits and injuries includes the following:

  • Spinal Injury Lawsuit – In September 2016, a Louisiana seaman filed a lawsuit alleging that the owners of a crane and a vessel did not take sufficient measures to prevent injuries. While working on a vessel in December 2015, the seaman sustained serious injuries to his spine while attaching a mud hose to a crane hook.  The lawsuit claims that the owners did not provide a seaworthy vessel, and that the crane operator did not see and/or obey signals to stop given by the seaman.

The spinal injuries sustained in the incident cause permanent damage to the seaman.  The lawsuit seeks $3 million in damages for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, mental and physical pain, maintenance and cure, and legal fees.  The plaintiff has requested a trial by jury.

  • Multi-Injury Lawsuit – In March 2017, a Louisiana seaman filed a lawsuit claiming that his employers failed to provide a safe working environment. In December 2015, the seaman reportedly sustained serious injuries to his cervical and lumbar discs while lifting a cable from the side of a barge.  He further sustained injuries to his joints, muscles, bones, tissue, and organs.

The lawsuit claims that the employers failed to provide proper equipment, failed to warn the seaman of the unsafe conditions, and failed to provide adequate personnel to complete the task.  The seaman is seeking a trial by jury with damages to be determined by the court.  He seeks recovery for maintenance and cure, legal fees, and all forms of relief provided by law.

  • Disc Injury Lawsuit – In March 2017, a Louisiana seaman filed a lawsuit claiming that he was injured when the vessel he was employed on struck a submerged island. The March 2016 incident resulted in serious injuries to his cervical and lumbar discs.  The lawsuit alleges that the defendants were negligent in taking precautions to discover and correct unsafe conditions.  Further, it is alleged that the defendant failed to provide adequate and prompt medical care and treatment.

The seaman is seeking a trial by jury and is pursuing recovery for medical expenses, pain and suffering, loss of earning capacity, maintenance and cure, loss of household services, and legal fees.

Common Seaman Injuries in Maritime Industry

As these example cases suggest, there are multiple risks and possible injuries when working in the maritime industry.  Injuries to the spine, discs, bones, and joints are among the most common reported among seamen.  Other common injuries include:

  • Head Injuries (open and closed)
  • Lost Limbs (severed in the accident or in response to crushing injuries)
  • Repetitive Use Injuries
  • Shoulder Injuries
  • Hypothermia
  • Drowning
  • Crush Injuries

These are only some of the most common seaman injuries.  There are a plethora of possible injuries that may occur to anyone working on a vessel or on a dock or shipyard area.  From crew boats to cruise ships, the maritime industry has many nuances that do not factor into other industries.

What Causes Seaman Injuries?             

As the lawsuits described above suggest, there are many possible causes for seaman injuries.  Seaman and other maritime workers are exposed to a variety of dangers, whether they are working in harsh weather conditions, or are required to operate heavy machinery.  Some of the most common causes of seaman injuries include:

  • Improper training and use of cranes and cargo moving equipment
  • Inadequate training and safety procedures for working around toxic chemicals
  • Improper maintenance and safety procedures for conveyor belts
  • Broken, defective, or improperly maintained steps and ladders
  • Extended exposure to plate freezers or freezing temperatures
  • Fires
  • Trawl Winch malfunction due to improper training, use, or maintenance

It is crucial that maritime employers and employees follow proper safety, training, maintenance, and operation guidelines in order to prevent accidents and injuries from occurring.  When injuries do occur, employers must also follow specific legal guidelines related to covering medical costs and compensating employees for lost wages, such as the Jones Act.

Understanding Your Legal Rights

Unfortunately, not all employers follow proper procedures or legal guidelines, which can have a detrimental effect on maritime workers and their loved ones.  It is important that anyone working in the maritime industry understand his or her legal rights when an accident occurs due to the negligence of someone else.  Injured workers may have the right to maintenance and cure benefits (covers medical and living expenses during recovery), lost wages or loss of earning capacity, pain and suffering, additional medical expenses, and even punitive damages if the employer was reckless or willfully violated their duty.

If you work in the maritime industry, or have questions about seaman injuries, contact us today to learn more about your legal rights.  Our team of skilled maritime injury attorneys can help you explore your legal rights and options, and pursue the compensation you deserve.  To schedule your free case review, fill out our online form.  Our staff is prompt and will respond to your inquiry as soon as possible.



Who Has Accountability for Shipbuilder Injuries?

It is no secret that working in the maritime industry has unique dangers, especially if you work for a shipbuilder, or in or near a shipyard.  With dangers well known, it must be asked “Who has Accountability for Shipbuilder Injuries?” This is a question many shipbuilders and maritime workers are asking in light of an Alabama lawsuit gaining a lot of attention.

Imagine your employer asks you to work with a dangerous tool.  On the surface, that may seem like a normal part of your responsibilities.  But what if that tool had been modified from its intended, manufactured use and you were injured as a result? Read on to learn more about just such a scenario, as well as what you can do to get help after a maritime injury.

Shipbuilder Lawsuit Background

Between January 2011 and March 2015, The Center for Investigative Reporting found at least 53 reports of injuries related to a modified tool used by employees at Austal USA – a shipyard in Mobile, Alabama.  The tool causing these injuries is a Metabo grinder, which is designed to be used with cutting discs in a straight line.  Austal officials realized that replacing the factory-intended discs with saw blades containing teeth would speed up the cutting process, and placed the modified version into the hands of their workers.

According to the Metabo Corp.  operator’s manual for the grinder, using blades like the one Austal chose can cause “frequent kickback and loss of control”.  That is exactly what has happened causing the injuries to so many Austal employees.  The reported injuries include cuts, gashes, and tears to the face, neck, and upper extremities.  Many of the injuries were to the hand or fingers, and required amputation.

Even with a manufacturer’s warning and numerous reports of injuries specifically related to the tool, Austal officials continue to put their employees in danger.  For years, the tool has been referred to as a “widow maker” by Austal officials and employees, including its top Safety Manager.

Shipbuilder Lawsuit

Based on the information and investigation into Austal and the injuries, an Alabama trial court has allowed a lawsuit to be filed by eight former or current Austal workers.  The lawsuit claims that Austal officials intentionally endangered workers by requiring them to use a tool that was modified and knowingly dangerous.  The lawsuit names Austal, Metabowerke, GmbH and Metabo, and the distributor Southern Gas and Supply Inc.

Austal has filed an appeal with the Alabama Supreme Court citing immunity under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA).  The company’s attorneys maintain that their immunity is solid, “even assuming that Austal acted intentionally with regard to each plaintiff’s workplace accident”.  It is unclear exactly how the LHWCA will factor into this lawsuit.

Traditionally, the LHWCA offers limited or no coverage to U.S.  government employees.  This is one aspect of this lawsuit that will undoubtedly be reviewed as it is determined whether the injured workers could be considered government employees.  This is often a gray area when there are government contracts and multiple entities involved.  Another element of the LHWCA that will be relevant is determining whether the injured workers have state workers’ compensation benefits.

To find out more about your rights as a maritime worker, or to learn more about filing a maritime injury lawsuit, contact Brown Wharton & Brothers today.  Maritime law is complex and defending your rights is best done with the guidance of a skilled attorney.

A Bigger Issue

Safety concerns like this one are not uncommon among shipbuilders.  What makes these concerns even greater is the fact that the U.S.  government relies on these specialized manufacturers to supply vessels for the Navy and Coast Guard.  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has been working for years to improve safety for shipbuilders, but unfortunately, these companies are not being held accountable.

Since 2008, over $100 billion in contracts were given to seven major shipbuilders by the Navy and Coast Guard despite the fact that these companies were subject to serious safety violations.  Austal specifically has been fined more than $61,000 by OSHA, including a penalty of $4,125 related to their exposing employees to “amputations, severe lacerations, and other injuries”.  During the same period that these fines and penalties were imposed, the Navy contracted more than $6 billion in work with Austal.

The issue here is that the U.S.  government expects those obtaining contracts to conduct business in an ethically and legally acceptable way.  Unfortunately, there is no real means of holding these companies accountable.  Even fines and penalties for safety violations resulting in injury or death are not halting unsafe or dangerous behavior.

What Maritime Workers Need to Know

As consumers, patients, and employees, we expect those who manufacture, distribute, care, or supervise us to keep our safety in mind.  Modifying a tool outside of its intended use certainly seems like questionable behavior.  At what point does such action become negligence or worse, malice?

Employees have some rights via workers’ compensation or maritime injury laws, but those do not help alleviate the problem of employers knowingly endangering their workers.  Lawsuits like this one can help raise awareness and demand attention be given to the lives of shipbuilders and all maritime workers.

Maritime workers who have questions about their legal rights, workers’ compensation or other laws, or need help after a work-related injury should contact an attorney who specializes in maritime injury cases.  At Brown Wharton & Brothers, we have the knowledge and experience you need to defend your rights and demand justice.  Fill out our online form to provide your information and our staff will contact you right away to set up your free consultation.



Five Tips for Avoiding Maritime Hypothermia

When most people think about the dangers of being at sea, they think of sunburn, lack of fresh water, or sharks.  In this article titled “Five Tips for Avoiding Maritime Hypothermia”, we want to discuss one of the threats that is more common than any of those.  Maritime hypothermia is considered one of the biggest threats to maritime workers.  Read on to learn more about maritime hypothermia and our five tips for staying safe in the maritime industry.

What is Maritime Hypothermia?

Hypothermia occurs when there is a severe drop in body temperature, such as falling into cold water, or working in inclement weather conditions.  You don’t have to work in the Arctic in order to be susceptible to hypothermia, either.  In fact, hypothermia can occur in any situation where your body temperature lowers from the normal 95 degrees to just under 89 degrees.

For maritime workers, falling into the water is one of the biggest threats for hypothermia.  If the water is colder than you are, you are susceptible to hypothermia because water conducts heat away from the human body faster than air.  That means that even in the warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico, you could still become hypothermic without taking proper safety measures.

When you become hypothermic, your body will experience a range of symptoms.  A breakdown of these symptoms based on core body temperature may resemble the following:

  • 96-98 degrees – Uncontrollable shivering and diminished motor skills. You will be able to walk and speak without difficulty at this stage.
  • 93-96 degrees – Walking and speaking becomes difficult, emotions are heightened, and you may feel aggressive or violent.
  • 86-93 degrees – Blood begins to move toward the internal organs to preserve heat. Shivering is inconsistent, and it may be difficult for you to stay awake.  At this stage, it is critical to get medical treatment immediately.

Five Tips for Avoiding Maritime Hypothermia

While you may not be able to prevent a maritime accident that lands you in the water, there are some helpful tips you should remember that could save your life.  Consider the following:

  1. Be Prepared for Immersion – Any time your body is submerged into water colder than your body temperature, there is a shock of immersion that occurs. Think about jumping into a cold swimming pool or running out of hot water in the shower.  In most cases, you will involuntarily gasp when the cold water hits your skin.  If you work in the maritime industry, it is important to remember that this shock occurs and try to avoid inhaling water into your lungs.
  2. Find a Way Out – One of the best ways to prevent the onset of hypothermia is to get out of the water as soon as possible. The longer your body is exposed to colder water, the faster your core body temperature will fall.  If you don’t have access to a lifeboat, try to find a piece of floating debris, or anything you can use to get as much of your body out of the water as possible.  Even if you feel colder, remember that your body loses heat faster in the water than in the open air.
  3. Stay Still – This may be one of the more difficult tips to remember, but it is important to preventing hypothermia.  The more you move in the water, the faster your body loses heat and your core temperature falls.  Swimming can cause your body to lose heat as much as 50 percent faster than staying still.  Unless you are certain that shore, a boat, or someplace out of the water is less than a kilometer away, your best bet might be keeping as still as possible until help arrives.
  4. Get in Position – The Heat Escape Lessening Position (HELP) is one of the movements you should make when in the water. To assume the HELP position, cross your legs and bring your knees to your chest.  Cross your arms over your chest also, so as much of your body is touching as is possible.  If you are in a group with others in the water, bundle up together as close as you can to preserve body heat.
  5. Stay Clothed – In some cases, maritime workers have immersion suits to protect them if they fall into the water. In other cases, you may find yourself weighed down by your clothing and be tempted to take it off.  It is always advised to keep your clothes on, even if they are wet and heavy.  The more protection you have between your skin and the water, the better your chances of regulating your core body temperature.

Important Safety and Treatment Information

If you or someone with you becomes hypothermic, it can be difficult to make sense of the situation and figure out what to do.  Here are some additional safety and treatment tips that could help save yours, or someone else’s life, during a maritime hypothermia situation:

  • Once safety is reached, never apply heat directly to the individual’s arms or legs, as this can force blood back to the brain and heart too quickly resulting in damage or death.
  • Apply indirect heat (hot water bottles, warm towels, heating pads, or body heat) to areas of the body like the neck, chest, head, and groin.
  • Keep the hypothermic person laying on their back. If possible, lay down with them and cover you both with blankets, as your body heat will transfer to them.
  • If the person is conscious, give them warm liquid to drink.
  • Never give a hypothermic person alcohol or caffeine if possible.
  • Call for help as soon as possible, and never leave someone who is hypothermic alone.

Workers in the maritime industry may not be able to prevent exposure to water or the elements, but with proper safety, training, and these helpful tips, the risk of developing hypothermia because of an accident may be a little less.



Common Questions about Maritime Maintenance and Cure

If you work in the maritime industry, you are probably familiar with the term “maintenance and cure,” but might not be sure of the best way to get the help you need and deserve.  In response to the many common questions about maintenance and cure our clients ask, we have compiled a list of answers that may help you if you have been injured while working in the maritime industry.

Please check out the answers below, and don’t hesitate to contact us if you have other questions or concerns about maritime injuries.

Common Questions about Maritime Maintenance and Cure

Do I qualify for maintenance and cure benefits?

If you are a seaman who was injured on-the-job, you very well may qualify for maintenance and cure benefits.  There are some complexities to the maritime industry that may challenge your eligibility or affect the amount you can receive.  Generally speaking, however, if you meet the legal definition of a seaman (someone who spends the majority of work time on a navigable vessel), then you should qualify for maintenance and cure.

My employer chose a doctor for me to see, but I would rather choose one myself.  Do I have to follow their recommendation?

Generally, your employer cannot force you to use a doctor they selected.  Remember that doctors selected by your employer may work for the company, meaning his or her focus may be on the company’s best interests and not yours.  Further, your employer may have provided the doctor with information about your injuries without your knowledge, which can complicate you getting the right diagnosis and treatment.  It is always advisable to choose a doctor you can trust.

Do I have to pay for a doctor I chose?

No! Maritime law absolutely allows injured seamen to choose their own doctor, and the employer must cover the expense.  The Jones Act specifically allows you the freedom to choose a doctor you are comfortable with, and whom you trust to make an accurate diagnosis.

What are the risks of seeing a company selected doctor?

The primary risk of seeing a doctor you did not choose is not getting the medical care you really need.  Doctors that work for your employer’s company may try to save the company money, which can result in you not getting proper diagnostics or treatment.  Remember, your employer is only required to pay for treatment that is recommended by the doctor.  Here are some of the risks of seeing a doctor you did not choose:

  • If the doctor is focused on saving money, rather than finding the best treatment for your injuries, he or she may refuse basic tests like MRIs, X-rays, nerve testing, or certain treatments.
  • Incomplete or lack of diagnostics can result in misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, which can cause further damage to your health.
  • Your condition may be generalized, which can result in inaccurate treatment plans.

What if my employer refuses to pay maintenance and cure benefits?

Maritime employers are required by law to pay maintenance and cure benefits to injured seamen.  If you were injured on-the-job and your employer is denying your maintenance and cure benefits, then you should definitely contact Brown Wharton & brothers to learn more about your legal rights, eligibility, and what you can do to get the financial help you deserve.

What can I expect maintenance and cure benefits to cover?

So long as your doctor makes an accurate diagnosis and recommendations to your employer, maintenance and cure should cover all of your related medical expenses, plus the cost of daily living while you recover.

Maintenance and cure are two separate concepts, defined as the following:

  • Maintenance – Benefits covering day-to-day expenses, such as mortgage or rent, utilities, insurance, food, and property taxes. Maintenance does not cover expenses like internet, cable, or car payments.
  • Cure – Benefits covering medical expenses and ongoing treatment. Cure benefits may cover transportation related to medical appointments, as well as the cost of diagnostics, treatment, and medications.

Remember that maintenance and cure pays for illnesses as well as injuries.  If you become ill while working as a seaman, you may be entitled to maintenance and cure benefits, even if the illness was not directly caused by the work being performed.

How long will I receive maintenance and cure?

In legal terms, maintenance and cure are benefits paid to an injured maritime worker until he or she is fit to return to duty, or reaches a point where further treatment will not help.  This is called maximum medical improvement (MMI).  Basically, reaching MMI means that your condition has improved as much as it is ever going to.

At the point of MMI, the doctor may discharge you from treatment.  You may reach MMI without being fully recovered if your doctor determines that your condition will not improve with further treatment.  If you suffered a permanent disability, then you may be able to pursue additional financial support outside the scope of maintenance and cure.

Do I need an attorney to help me with maintenance and cure benefits?

While your employer is required to pay maintenance and cure benefits, you may find it very helpful to contact a maritime injury attorney after an on-the-job injury occurs.  A maritime injury attorney can assess your case, help ensure that you get the maintenance and cure benefits you are legally entitled to, and can help make sure that all options for optimum recovery are considered.

If you have questions about your on-the-job maritime injury, contact us today.  We offer every client a free case review, so please fill out the form on your screen and our team will contact you right back.



Cruise Ship Lifeboat Accident Dangers

If you work in the maritime industry, you likely know that there are many dangers. A recent cruise ship lifeboat accident highlights dangers that seem unlikely, but are actually a very real concern.

Cruise Ship Lifeboat Accident Dangers

Cruise Ship Lifeboat Accident

Early in September 2016, the crew aboard the Harmony of the Seas – the largest cruise ship in the world – were conducting an “abandon ship drill” when a lifeboat became disconnected from its rigging. The lifeboat fell over 30 feet into the water, with crewmembers onboard.

One person died in the lifeboat accident, and four others were injured. Media reports indicated that two people were being treated for critical or life-threatening injuries.

This lifeboat accident was the second in three months, and the second to cause fatal injuries.

In July 2016, a crewmember on the ship Norwegian Breakaway was killed in another lifeboat accident. Both accidents are under investigation.

These two lifeboat accident examples are only a glimpse into the dangers of the maritime industry, specifically working on passenger ships.

In 2013, five crewmembers onboard the Thomson Majesty were killed when the lifeboat they were in plunged into the water landing upside down. In 2014, a cable snapped aboard the Coral Princess while a lifeboat was being raised into its rigging. One crewmember died in that accident.

Lifeboat Accident Risk Factors

Any time you work around heavy equipment or rigging, there is a risk of malfunction, negligent handling, or inadequate safety procedures. In the case of these two lifeboat accidents, part of the investigation is determining whether the lifeboats were secured and handled properly. The lifeboat drill process will also be examined.

Lifeboat drills are required as part of Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) guidelines.

The Harmony of the Seas is outfitted with 44-ton lifeboats, each set to hold 370 passengers. The lifeboats are designed to be efficient, with minimal work required to lower and navigate passengers off the ship. Abandon ship drills are a critical part of ensuring passenger safety, and making sure that the ship is safe for everyone onboard.

Lifeboat Accident Causes

According to the Nautical Institute, most lifeboat accidents are caused at the time when human and mechanical structures interact. The most common factors leading to accidents include:

  • Equipment failure
  • Quick release mechanism failure
  • Lack of maintenance
  • Design failure
  • Failure to follow correct procedures
  • Lack of proper training

Experts argue that the davits (rigging) used to secure the tons of mass required to support lifeboats and passengers may be vulnerable after years of use.

Experts also warn that the complex series of actions required to safely and properly release the boats may be confusing for crewmembers.

Lifeboat Accident Prevention

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is responsible for safety standards, regulation, and other matters relating to the maritime industry. The IMO has a variety of publications designed to improve safety standards, training, and implementation of safe lifeboat management.

The IMO also works closely with the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) and the United Nations to propose and adopt laws and amendments to laws and regulations.

The IMO specifically addresses regulations within SOLAS, and works diligently to improve safety precautions and address risk factors. SOLAS includes regulations and treaties pertaining to the following areas of the maritime industry:

  • Fire protection, detection, and extinction
  • Life saving appliances and arrangements (including lifeboats)
  • Radiocommunications
  • Safety of Navigation
  • Carriage of cargo
  • Management for the safe operation of ships
  • Verification of compliance

In addition to the IMO and MSC, the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) also has advised certain provisions for its members, including mandating the following:

  • For training purposes, lifeboats may only be loaded while the ship is waterborne, and only while lifeboat crewmembers are onboard.
  • During lifeboat loading drills, lifeboats should be filled with an equal number of crewmembers to the certified capacity of the lifeboat.
  • Lifejackets should always be worn by lifeboat crewmembers, and all such crewmembers must attend the lifeboat loading drill.
  • Lifeboat loading drills should be conducted every six months.

Union Organization Calls for Change

In light of the more recent injuries and deaths during lifeboat drills, the Union organization Nautilus International is calling for change.

According to Nautilus General Secretary Mark Dickinson, the dangers of lifeboat drills are well documented, and the organization advises against lifeboats being manned while drills are performed. Dickinson states that it is “appalling” that the maritime industry has not solved this issue.

Nautilus states that this issue has consistently been raised between themselves and the IMO, and believes that a more concentrated effort needs to be made to protect crewmembers from known dangers. Dickinson further states his opinion that the entire concept of lifeboats should be reviewed, as well as potential alternatives for evacuation systems.

Lifeboat Accidents and Human Error

Of course, as humans we have limited control over equipment malfunction or breakdown.

What we can control, however, is our response to the responsibility to maintain equipment, service it properly, and train employees to practice safe actions and behavior.

In the maritime industry, employers are required to do this and more to protect their workers. When they fail to do so and injuries result, they may be subject to consequences based on applicable laws, regulations, and company policies.

Injuries and loss of life caused by negligence are never acceptable, and it is the right of every maritime worker to have adequate training and a safe working environment.

Workers who believe these rights have been violated, or who have been injured in a lifeboat accident, may find it beneficial to contact a maritime injury attorney to discuss their legal rights.



Why Are Maritime Lawsuits So Challenging?

One of the more vexing questions about maritime law is deceivingly simple to ask: “Why are maritime lawsuits so challenging”? In this article, we hope to answer this question by providing you with information about what sets maritime lawsuits apart from other personal injury or workers’ compensation lawsuits, as well as offering some guidance if you have been injured while working in the maritime industry.

Why are Maritime Lawsuits so Challenging?

There is no simple answer to why maritime lawsuits are challenging.  The fact is that maritime lawsuits are multi-faceted–that is, there are several elements that factor into such lawsuits that do not apply to other lawsuits.

Maritime Law/Admiralty Law

Maritime law (or admiralty law) is a specific body of laws that apply to individuals classified as seamen, longshoremen, or harbor workers.  A brief summary of these laws includes:

  • The Jones ActThe Jones Act protects seamen who have been injured while in the course of their employment. To qualify as a seaman, you must work at least 30 percent of your job onboard a vessel in navigable waters.  The Jones Act specifically protects seamen who are injured as a result of employer negligence.
  • The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) – Maritime workers who do not qualify as a seaman are covered by the LHWCA. The LHWCA protects workers who work onboard vessels, but also those who work in harbors, shipyards, or other maritime positions.  To qualify for LHWCA benefits, you do not have to prove negligence caused your injuries.
  • The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act – The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act was created to specifically protect workers on oil rigs, platforms, and permanent structures located along the continental shelf regions. These workers are not classified as seamen or harbor workers, which made it necessary for a specific set of laws to be formed in order to ensure that these workers can pursue benefits if they are injured on-the-job.
  • Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) – The DOHSA pertains to surviving family members of maritime workers killed on-the-job. Under the DOHSA, family members have the right to pursue compensation for their losses, including medical or funeral expenses, loss of financial support, and pain and suffering.

Requirements for Maritime Lawsuits

Similar to the specific, individualized nature of maritime law, there are several requirements that must be met in order to file a maritime lawsuit.  Further, depending on your classification and the individual facts of your situation, the laws that apply to your case may vary.  Some of the basic requirements for maritime lawsuits include:

  • Classification – In order to be eligible to file a maritime lawsuit, you must be classified as a maritime worker who is covered under maritime law. It is a common misconception that only seamen or sailors are covered under maritime law.  The fact is that individuals who work on a vessel in navigable waters, and who contribute directly or indirectly to the operation of the vessel may be covered.  That includes workers who contribute to such positions as cooks, clerks, stewards, musicians, bartenders, maids, or other contributory roles.
  • Time Spent on Vessel – Another requirement for filing a maritime lawsuit is that you can prove that you spent a significant amount of time working on a vessel. In most cases, the requirement is at least 30 percent of your employment.  That means that if your time is split between a shore position and a position on a vessel, then you must show that at least 30 percent of your time was spent on the vessel.
  • Navigable Vessel – As the name suggests, a navigable vessel is one that is capable of making seagoing voyages. It is important to note that the vessel does not have to be at sea when an injury occurs in order for you to seek benefits under maritime law.  Rather, the vessel has to be capable.  If you were injured on a vessel that does not operate, is still being built, or is unable to navigate on the water, you may not qualify to file a maritime lawsuit.

The Maritime Lawsuit Process

One of the elements of maritime lawsuits that many people find challenging is the process itself, and the little details that factor therein.  Here we will take a look at some of the elements of the maritime lawsuit process that may be challenging.  Consider the following:

  • Documentation – One of the most important elements of a maritime lawsuit is documentation of the accident, your injuries, medical statements and invoices, and any communication between you and your employer. Many people fail to keep detailed records, or omit information that may be helpful in establishing a case.  When that happens, the legal process may become delayed or even dismissed.
  • Statute of Limitations – Like most legal matters, there is a statute of limitations for filing maritime lawsuits. In most cases, this is three (3) years from the date of the injury.  However, in some cases, the statute is reduced (sometimes significantly), which can preclude you from filing a lawsuit if you do not act quickly.
  • Proving Negligence – Employers may have the responsibility of maintaining safe work environments, but you may have to prove that negligence occurred, which can be very challenging. Employers and insurers often try to contend that the worker was at-fault for the accident and injuries in order to avoid paying compensation.
  • Statement Pitfalls – If you have been injured on the job, it is important to file an accident report with your employer and seek medical attention immediately. What you should avoid are statement pitfalls, such as answering questions about the accident, fault, or your responsibility without your attorney present.  Often, injured workers are asked a barrage of confusing questions and are not aware of maritime law, resulting in statements that may not be completely accurate, or may be damaging to the case.
  • Appeals – After filing a maritime lawsuit, your employer has the right to appeal the case, or deny the accusations. This is one of the most challenging and time consuming elements of a maritime lawsuit.  The process of going back and forth between sides, filing motions, and seeking information can complicate and lengthen the time the case is in court.

How to Avoid Maritime Lawsuit Challenges

Some of the challenging elements of maritime lawsuits are inherent to the process and cannot be avoided.  What you can do to minimize the challenges and their effects on your case starts by consulting with a maritime injury attorney who can guide you through the process.  A skilled maritime injury attorney can help you understand what laws protect you, how to seek compensation, and what steps you can take to avoid lengthy, expensive, or unnecessary processes.