Located in the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S., Delaware is home to the Port of Wilmington, the nation’s main entry point for perishable goods. Delaware is also served by three smaller ports at Dover, Newark, and Lewes, but most of the cargo traffic is handled at Wilmington. Several ferries also operate on the Delaware river, linking the state with neighboring New Jersey. The ports provide thousands of lucrative jobs to maritime workers, but many seamen and port workers suffer on-the-job injuries as a result of negligent employers and from working on unseaworthy vessels.
Delaware’s Port of Wilmington and Maritime Accidents
Despite Delaware’s small size both in terms of geography and population, its main maritime facility on the Delaware River is one of the busiest on the East Coast. The Port of Wilmington is a deep water port which offers full services to the 400 ships that pass through each year. Wilmington is the main entry port for such perishable goods as bananas and fruit juice, and it’s the East Coast’s export facility for livestock. Approximately five million tons of cargo are loaded or unloaded at the Port of Wilmington every year.
Along with berthing spaces for freighters, tankers, and roll-on, roll-off (Ro-Ro) ships, the Port of Wilmington contains the largest on-dock cold storage complex in the U.S. and 250,000 square feet of dry warehouse space. Approximately 50 of the Port’s 308 acres are open space areas set aside for containers, automobiles, and other types of bulky cargo.
Industrial ports such as Wilmington are bustling with activities around the clock. Seamen, longshore workers, and other maritime workers are constantly on the move or handling bulky crates around ships and docks. Whether ships are in port or underway, the maritime environment is inherently dangerous, and industrial accidents occur frequently.
Per the Diamond State Port Corporation (DSPC), the Port of Wilmington’s operator, Delaware’s main port reduced its accident rate by 20 percent per year between 1997 and 2002. The DSPC safety enhancement program encompasses every aspect of port operations in Wilmington, including HAZMAT, food cargo, docks and warehouses, transportation operations, heavy equipment safety, traffic control, and water safety. Nevertheless, maritime work is risky, especially if employers don’t use caution and allow accidents to occur by failing to stress safe methods of securing equipment on ships or docks.
On May 16, 2013, a 23-year-old dock worker was helping unload a freighter at the Port of Wilmington when a 2,000-lb. coil of wire rolled on him. The worker fell down through an open hatch and landed in the ship’s cargo hold 70 feet below the main deck. The coil of wire also fell and pinned the worker to the metal deck while co-workers attempted to free the injured man. The coil was removed before fire rescue crews arrived, but the worker required hospitalization for his injuries.
Per admiralty law, port workers who are involved in accidents while driving trucks with cargo in and out of the Port of Wilmington are considered to have been in a maritime accident even if they’re not within the confines of the facility. If a truck is carrying cargo to or from a port, its driver is performing a task directly tied to maritime trade.
On June 15, 2013, a tractor-trailer rig carrying cattle to the Port of Wilmington overturned on a ramp on I-495, killing three of the 42 cows in the trailer. The Holstein cows were bound for Wilmington to be shipped overseas. The accident occurred when the 2003 Peterbilt truck was driving along a curve on a northbound ramp en route to Wilmington’s Terminal Avenue and flipped over, landing on a guardrail. 39 of the cows survived, but one was found dead in the trailer and two had to be euthanized by police on the scene. The driver, 23, was cited for inattentive driving and ignoring the Port’s safety rules regarding transport of cargo. Per DSPC rules, drivers who are involved in an on-the-job accident must repeat safety training courses before being allowed to work in the Port again.
Maritime Workers’ Compensation
Seamen and longshore workers who are injured on the job are covered by the Jones Act section of the Merchant Marine Act and the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. The Jones Act gives injured seamen the right to sue their employers if the accident was a result of negligence or if their vessel’s seaworthiness was compromised in any fashion. The Jones Act also allows seamen to collect money for their daily expenses. Seamen also get funds which cover the costs of their medical treatment while they recover from their injury. This type of compensation is called maintenance and cure.
The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) is a plan that provides certain port and offshore workers not covered by the Jones Act with compensation for work-related injuries and medical conditions. Under the LHWCA, injured workers receive temporary assistance that equals two-thirds of their weekly salaries. Other types of compensation include payment of medical expenses, compensation for lost or severely injured body parts, and various classifications of disability awards that range from partial to total disability.
If you’ve been injured in a maritime job-related accident, remember to file an accident report with your employer as promptly as possible. If your employer’s insurance company sends a representative to ask for a written or oral statement, you are under no obligation to provide one. Don’t allow anyone to pressure you into signing anything. For more information about your rights as a maritime worker, see our articles Jones Act Lawyer and Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Act Compensation.