California’s location on the West Coast of the U.S. makes the Golden State ideally suited for maritime trade and the cruise ship industry. California’s long coastline along the Pacific is home to 11 state-operated seaports, including the three key ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, San Diego and Oakland. These maritime facilities and the vessels that transit through them are a vital part of the state and national economies. Nevertheless, maritime work is hard and dangerous, and many of California’s seamen and longshore workers suffer serious job-related injuries or are killed in accidents caused by negligent employers.
California Maritime Accidents and Injuries
California’s maritime industry creates hundreds of thousands of jobs, either directly or indirectly, that drive the state’s economic engine. The Port of Los Angeles, which forms part of a mega-port along with the nearby Port of Long Beach, employs 20,000 maritime workers. It is a major home base for cruise ships and one of the world’s largest cargo ports. The Port of Oakland is the main handler of shipping containers in the northern part of the state, while San Diego has the fourth largest port in California.
All this maritime economic activity is beneficial to California and the U.S., but it exacts a huge toll on the seamen and longshore workers who operate the ships and handle the heavy traffic of cargo and passengers. Port facilities and ships of all sizes and types are among the riskiest places to work in. As a result, accidents are all too common in the maritime industries, and many workers are seriously injured or killed while at work.
For instance, on July 1, 2013, a dockworker at the Port of Los Angeles died when a tractor utility rig fell into the water near Berth 327. The man was trapped inside the vehicle in 60-foot deep waters and died before he could be rescued by Los Angeles Fire Department divers.
Maritime accidents tend to cause serious injuries and are often fatal due to the nature of the workplace. Port facilities and maritime vessels are packed with heavy equipment, hazardous materials, and flammable fuels. The surfaces on which maritime workers must walk or drive vehicles on is often slick with slippery substances, and a fall from a ship’s to the water or a dock can be as fatal as a fall from a tall building. To make matters worse, many maritime workers are needlessly hurt or killed because their employers don’t spend money on maintenance or put workplace safety programs high on their list priorities. This type of neglect often causes an increasing number of maritime accidents and problems with unseaworthy vessels.
These are a few of the most common accidents and injuries that occur in the California maritime industry:
- Exposure to toxic materials, including chemicals, hazardous waste, and asbestos
- Slips, trips, and falls
- Lifeboat drill accidents
- Shipboard fires and explosions
- Boiler room accidents
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Falls from gangways/ladders
- Crane and winch accidents
- Tugboat/barge accidents
- Cruise ship accidents, including rogue waves
- Man overboard
- Broken limbs
- Back, spine, and shoulder injuries
- Heavy objects dropped on worker accidents
- Dental trauma
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Maritime Worker Compensation
Most maritime workers go into their profession knowing that certain risks come with the job. However, some seamen, longshore, and offshore employees may be unaware that maritime laws offer established protections to help them get compensation in case they are injured on the job. Port workers are protected by the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA), while seamen and offshore workers are covered under the Merchant Marine Act or Jones Act.
If you’re a maritime worker who has been injured on the job as a result of negligence or because you worked on an unseaworthy vessel, a maritime attorney will assist you in cases involving either the LHWCA or the Jones Act. Maritime compensation cases are both complex and time-sensitive, and they require the legal skills of someone who knows the intricacies of admiralty law.