Oregon’s location on the Pacific Coast of the U.S. makes it an ideal locations for the maritime industry. Oregon has two major seaports, the Port of Portland and the Oregon International Port at Coos Bay, as well as nine smaller ports and harbors used by cruise ships, commercial fishing boats, and recreational boaters. Oregon’s maritime industry employs 260,000 seamen, fishermen, dockworkers, stevedores, and transportation workers and generates billions of dollars in revenue annually. However, most maritime jobs are physically demanding and are performed in dangerous settings. As a result, many workers are seriously injured in work-related accidents, including those caused by negligence on the part of employers.
Oregon’s Major Ports
Oregon’s 363-mile-long Pacific Coast and the Columbia River on its northern border are the state’s prime locations for its various maritime facilities. The Port of Portland has four terminals along the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, including Oregon’s only deepwater container facility. The port also has rail connections in its T6 terminal that can handle containerized intermodal rail transportation on trains operated by Union Pacific and BNSF railroads. The Port of Portland handles 12 million tons of cargo every year. In 2010 alone, the port’s foreign trade accounted for $7,774,343,160 in imports and $4,099,037,823 in exports.
Oregon’s second largest maritime facility is the Oregon International Port at Coos Bay. Located along the Puget Bay, between Washington State and San Francisco, it is the biggest deep draft harbor on the Pacific Coast. The facility is connected by the Coos Bay Rail Link to the port of Eugene, and from there to the larger nationwide rail network. An average of 2.5 million tons of cargo pass through the port each year, primarily lumber and other wood products. In 2010, Coos Bay’s foreign trade balance was $3,680,841 in imports and $104,436,894 in exports.
Examples of Oregon Maritime Accidents
Although Oregon’s economy reaps many benefits from marine enterprises that operate in the state, the arduous nature of work at sea and in ports exacts a toll on maritime workers. Ships and port facilities are intrinsically dangerous. Seamen must live and work in an environment where the slightest change in wind speed or sea state can be treacherous. On land, most port workers must be mindful of all the heavy machinery, tons of containers, and the non-stop traffic of people and vehicles that pass through port facilities. Since ports tend to operate on a 24-hour, 7-days-a-week schedule, on-the-job accidents can easily happen.
A tragic example of the kind of serious accidents that have occurred in Oregon took place in April of 2013 when a 600-ton crane collapsed at the Port of Portland.Workers were attempting to remove an old bulk unloader at the Kinder Morgan soda ash export facility. Fortunately, the workers involved in the operation heard a strange noise and were able to move out of the way a minute before the crane fell. No one was injured, but the marine pier was damaged and there was a concern that toxic paint chips and asbestos may have been released when the structure collapsed.
Most accidents that take place in maritime facilities are not as dramatic as the crane collapse, but they often have lasting consequences. In December of 1988, longshoreman Donald Ronne injured his knee while working aboard a ship docked at the Port of Portland. He underwent knee surgery and temporarily left his job while he recovered. Though he was 30% disabled, Ronne resumed his longshoring duties on a full-time basis in August of 1989.
Two months later, however, Ronne experienced severe knee pain while working on a crane and had to stop working. The knee injuries caused Ronne to develop back problems that prevented him from finding other work, and he was forced to file a Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) disability claim in 1993. The administrative law judge for the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) awarded Ronne full disability based on his 1989 average weekly wages of $963.64.
The Port of Portland appealed the award. The Port did not dispute Ronne’s claim that he was disabled as a result of a work-related injury. The appeal, which was filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, argued that Ronne’s award should be based on the average weekly wage of $170 of the non-longshore job he had tried to apply for, not the $963.64 figure from 1989.
On September 27, 1999, the Court of Appeals denied the Port of Portland’s appeal and upheld the OWCP judge’s compensation decision, citing the fact that the back problem that left Ronne disabled stemmed from on-the-job injury from 1989.
Legal Help for Oregon Maritime Workers
The aforementioned story is just one among a myriad of accidents and injuries have taken place in the Oregon maritime industry. If you’ve been injured while on the job, you may be eligible for compensatory damages under general maritime law, the Jones Act, or the Longshore Harbor Workers Compensation Act (LHWCA). It’s imperative to understand your rights, options, and what you may be entitled before signing any insurance paperwork. Consult with an experienced maritime attorney as soon as possible if you have any concerns.
For more information about maritime industry accidents and compensation, please see our articles The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act and Jones Act Lawyer.