Located on a peninsula in Maine’s Casco Bay, the Port of Portland is one of the United States’ major seaports. Its ice-free natural harbor is ideal for a mix of cruise ships, cargo containers, commercial fishing fleets, and ferries. It is the largest maritime port in New England, with 4 million metric revenue tons of freight and 22.9 million tons of oil passing through its facilities in an average year. The Port of Portland provides several thousand maritime jobs to seamen and longshore workers. However, many marine workers are often injured in accidents on ships at sea or while working in the port’s facilities. A lot of these accidents could have been prevented has workers been afforded safe conditions and equipment while on the job.
Port of Portland Maritime Accidents
Maritime work is a difficult and dangerous vocation. Seamen who work aboard ships are always at the mercy of an environment that is often inhospitable, especially when vessels are sailing in 50-foot seas and with high winds blowing overhead. In addition, ships and port facilities are full of heavy machinery, huge containers that weigh ten or more tons each, and flammable fuels and lubricants. As a result, many maritime employees are injured in accidents that rarely get public attention, yet affect hundreds of workers and their families on a regular basis.
On October 6, 2008, Ioannis Zagklaras, a Greek port captain who had traveled to Portland to oversee the offloading of a freighter at the port, was fatally injured when a heavy piece of machinery broke loose and crushed him against the ship’s railing. Zagklaras suffered an amputated leg and underwent 22 operations and medical procedures at a Maine hospital. He died of his injuries on March 13, 2009 at the age of 67. Zagklaras had been supervising the unloading of road salt shipped to Maine from Chile. The Greek seaman was trying to move a 2,300 lb. cable reel mechanism manually when an unexpected movement from a crane caused the piece of equipment to slide across the MV Calypso N’s deck and pin Zagklaras to the metal railing.
Zagklaras’ widow filed negligence lawsuits against Sprague Energy Corp. and Leopard Shipping Co. for $1.2 million in medical and funeral expenses, plus an undisclosed sum for other damages. The suit went to trial in a Portland federal court in April of 2013, but the proceedings ended after only five days when both sides reached a settlement for an undisclosed amount of compensation.
Compensation for Injured Maritime Workers
Maritime accidents and the injuries they cause can be life-altering experiences. Even minor on-the-job injuries can result in unwanted days’ off from work and lost wages. The more serious accidents can lead to permanent disabilities, loss of limbs, mental stress, and diminished ability to find lucrative substitutes to maritime employment. In the worst cases, a maritime accident can be fatal.
If a maritime worker is injured on the job, there are federal laws that grant certain rights and forms of compensation. For seamen, the Merchant Marine Act (Jones Act) gives them the right to receive maintenance and cure benefits, as well as the right to sue their employer if the accident was a result of negligence. The Jones Act also allows seamen to sue vessel owners if the ship they were injured in was in any way unseaworthy.
Most port workers are compensated through claims filed with the Department of Labor under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Act (LHWCA). The LHWCA offers compensation for work-related injuries and illnesses if they occur in maritime facilities such as the Port of Portland or on navigable waters of the United States. The LHWCA also offers death benefits to a maritime worker’s dependents if the on-the-job injuries are fatal. Pursuing claims under either the Jones Act or LHWCA can be complicated and must be done before the statute of limitations kick in. A maritime lawyer with experience in admiralty and personal injury law is a vital asset to injured workers and their loved ones.
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