Connecticut lies at the southern edge of New England with a coastline on Long Island Sound. Along with its rivers and various ports, the state’s geographic location and long association with fishing and shipbuilding give Connecticut a strong maritime connection. In addition to various shipyards and a Navy submarine base in New London, Connecticut is home to three major ports and several smaller harbors that provide thousands of jobs to maritime workers. However, maritime employment is rife with industrial accidents, many of which are caused by negligent employers and unseaworthy vessels.
Connecticut Maritime Facilities and Accidents
Connecticut is home to 13 ports and harbors, most of which are located along Long Island Sound or the mouth of the Connecticut River. Some harbors, like the Noank Harbor, are devoted to building and hosting commercial fishing boats.The Noank smack,a sloop designed specifically to catch and store fish, was widely used by commercial fishermen in many communities from the 1860s to the 1920s. Connecticut’s three largest civilian ports are located in New Haven, Bridgeport, and New London. New Haven is the busiest port between Boston and New York City. It handles 18 million tons of cargo annually, including most of Connecticut’s manufactured goods. Bridgeport and New London combined are capable of handling over five million tons of cargo a year, although much of New London’s traffic is military due to the presence of the adjacent Navy submarine base.
These ports provide thousands of jobs to commercial fishermen, seamen, shipbuilders, and longshore workers. These jobs offer good salaries and other attractive benefits. These types of jobs, however, demanding and notoriously dangerous. As a result, on-the-job accidents injure or kill several maritime workers every year. Though some accidents are beyond anyone’s ability to prevent, many could have been prevented if not for negligence on the part of employers or owners of vessels in disrepair.
There are numerous types of accidents that affect workers in any branch of the maritime industry. Seamen are often injured in slip-trip-and-falls on slick decks or poorly maintained ship ladders. Engine room personnel have suffered burns or died of smoke inhalation when fuel lines leak or break and cause fires to break out. Accidents aboard ships tend to be aggravated by the amount of flammable materials they must carry to operate properly and their inability to be aided swiftly if they are far from shore.
On land, many port workers are victims of work-related accidents while loading or unloading cargo, fueling, repairing or refitting ships, or removing toxic materials like asbestos or chemical products. Longshore and harbor workers have been injured, seriously disabled, or killed in accidents involving:
- Marine Cranes: Several types of cranes are necessary in maritime facilities to move, load, and unload heavy, bulky freighters into cargo terminals. If cranes are not properly maintained or if they are overloaded, they can overturn or collapse.
- Forklifts: Most cargo containers or pallets are too heavy for workers to manhandle, so forklifts are used to move freight from the docks to warehouses or other storage areas. Safety protocols require forklift operators to drive the vehicles in reverse if their forward visibility is blocked by the cargo they haul. Poorly trained employees ignore these rules and have caused several fatal forklift accidents.
- Falls From Heights: Ships, particularly large ships, have heights that equal those of multi-story buildings. Poorly-designed and or defective safety railings can cause workers to lose their balance and suffer a series of injuries.
Maritime Workers’ Rights
Maritime workers who are injured on the job have special protection under federal laws that take the place of regular workers’ compensation. The Jones Act covers seamen and grants them the right to receive maintenance and cure pay if they are injured in a maritime accident. Seamen also have the right to sue an employer who was negligent and contributed in some way to the accident.
Longshore and certain offshore workers are compensated for injuries and work-related illnesses through the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA). Based upon the FELA law that provided compensation for American railway employees, LHWCA is a workers’ compensation scheme that provides an injured maritime employee financial compensation equal to two-thirds of the average weekly wages while being medically treated for injuries. LHWCA compensation also covers various types of disabling conditions, compensations for lost limbs, and death benefits to surviving dependents.
Though each law’s claims processes are different, they are governed by a statute of limitations and can require a great deal of paperwork and administrative hearings. An experienced maritime attorney can help help injured workers and their loved ones to receive compensation for their on-the-job injuries.