Known as the “Great Lakes” state, there is no better place for a thriving maritime industry than in Michigan. With one of the largest ports in the nation, easy access to the Detroit River, and surrounded by water that feeds into the Mississippi River, Michigan provides a host of maritime activities, including commercial fishing, cargo shipping, cruise services, and more. Several thousand maritime workers are employed in Michigan. In fact, shipping jobs alone employ over 60,0000 people. Because of their hard work and dedication, Michigan is a leading maritime city, often called the “fourth seacoast.” Yet, strenuous work brings the risk of accidents and injuries, especially in the maritime work sector. Although some accidents are unpreventable, several other accidents occur due to employer negligence.
Examples of Maritime Accidents in Michigan
One of the most devastating accidents of all time in the maritime industry took place on Lake Superior in November of 1975. A 730-foot-long cargo vessel, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, was carrying 26,000 tons of ore when it capsized in the lake, killing all 29 crew members. The remains of the ship was found several days later at the northern tip of one of Michigan’s peninsulas. It was broken in half and buried over 500 feet under below the surface. Although there were no survivors to indicate exactly what happened before the vessel sank, experts speculate that the ship was too overloaded with cargo, which made it sit lower in the water and more susceptible to damage by large waves.
Unfortunately, these types of accidents have happened in Michigan for centuries, and still happen today. Although no accident has been as damaging since the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, today’s maritime workers in Michigan still face a plethora of risks and dangers. For instance, longshoremen handle massive amounts of cargo each day in Michigan, and at all hours, depending upon shipping and dock schedules. Because of the sheer amount of work and duties involved, longshoremen are frequently at risk for injuries caused by equipment and machinery accidents, electrical accidents, forklift and crane accidents, slip and falls, and scaffolding accidents.
Commercial fishing is also a large part of the maritime industry in Michigan. According to Tom Goniea, a commercial fisheries biologist with Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the “ total store value of the state-licensed fishery is worth nearly $20 million to Michigan’s economy and supports an estimated 300 fishing and fishing-related jobs.” Yet, a myriad of commercial fishing accidents have occurred in Michigan, many of which were a result of seamen working aboard unseaworthy vessels. For instance, if a seaman in injured aboard a vessel due to malfunctioning equipment, then the vessel is considered unseaworthy. In addition, employers who force seamen to work in unfavorable weather conditions are placing these workers at direct risk of falling overboard and a multitude of other potential accidents.
If You’ve Been Injured
If you’re a Michigan maritime worker and you’ve been injured on the job, you have legal rights that protect you under general maritime law. For example, the Jones Act covers seamen who were injured in navigable waters while on the job if the injury occurred because of the negligence of another party. The Longshore Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) protects longshoremen who are injured on the job or contract an occupational disease. It’s important to understand what you may qualify for before signing any insurance paperwork. If you need assistance, an experienced Michigan maritime attorney can help you in determining what you may be entitled to.