Most commercial fishermen injuries are excluded from compensation benefits that other state workers are entitled to. However, under federal maritime law, commercial fishermen are protected under both general maritime law and the Jones Act. However, there are many advantages of being covered under federal maritime law as opposed to state workers’ compensation.
Compensation for Injuries
Unlike workers’ compensation, commercial fisherman can get full compensation from their employers if injured on the job. Worker’s compensation is typically limited to a certain amount, while commercial fisherman can sue their employer for the full amount of lost compensation, including future wages as well.
Maintenance and Cure Damages
Under general maritime Law, workers who are injured while on a vessel are entitled to maintenance and cure, and this applies to commercial fishermen as well. Fishermen who are injured while on the job are covered under maintenance and cure regardless of how the accident happend and regardless of who is at fault. The term maintenance is defined as a daily living allowance while the commercial fisherman is unable to work, and the term cure is defined coverage for any medical expenses associated with the injuries.
Commercial fisherman are also covered for unseaworthiness under general maritime law. Unseaworthiness occurs if the vessel that fishermen are working from is inoperable and in need of repair, rendering it unseaworthy. It’s important to note that an unseaworthy vessel can still be capable of navigation, but may have a defect in equipment on board or any type of maintenance problem that puts fishermen at risk for accidents and injuries. If and accident and injury does occur, fishermen may be entitle to damages. For example, if an injury happens because of a faulty conveyor belt or a broken fishing net and the owner had reasonable warning and enough time to repair it, the boat is considered unseaworthy and the employer may be liable for any injuries incurred.
With the sheer amount of the commercial fisherman in Alaska, the state provides a “Fishermen’s Fund” for qualified injured fishermen. The fund provides the compensation for all medical injuries that occurred while the worker was injured on or off shore. Alaska is the only state that offers a separate fund for commercial fishermen and there are strict requirements that must be met in order to qualify. For more detailed information, see our “Alaska Fishermen’s Fund” article.
Common Types of Commercial Fishermen Accidents
Although a rewarding career in many aspects, being a commercial fisherman comes with several risks. In fact, according to USA Today, commercial fishing has the highest rate of occupational deaths in the United States, with a little over 151 deaths per 100,000 workers. Some of the most common types of injuries include:
- Falling through open hatches
- Injuries to the back, shoulders, and neck from being overworked
- Getting limbs caught in equipment and machinery
- Falling because of broken equipment on the vessel
- Injuries due to crane and/or winch failure
Legal Options for Commercial Fishermen
In many instances, injuries and deaths could have been prevented or reduced if the employer or vessel owner took preventative measures to ensure that every fisherman was as safe as possible while working. For example, over 50% of commercial fishermen deaths between 2000-2010 occurred because of a vessel disaster. If workers aren’t provided with the correct protective gear and a seaworthy vessel, injuries typically occur at a much higher rate. Since so many of these accidents could have been prevented, general maritime law includes commercial fisherman so that they’ll have a way to recover damages from the responsible party. It’s important to retain legal representation if you’re a commercial fishermen and feel any of your legal rights are being ignored or violated.