Located in the South Atlantic section of the United States, Virginia has had a long maritime tradition since its founding in 1607 as the first permanent British settlement in North America. The Commonwealth of Virginia is home to 11 ports of various types and sizes, but much of its sea traffic is concentrated on the Port of Virginia, a state-owned and operated group of facilities in and around Hampton Roads. Per a 2006 economic impact report published by the Virginia Port Authority, the Port employs around 10,157 maritime employees, with compensation and salaries estimated to total $566 million. Although maritime trade is a boon to Virginia’s economy, accidents and injuries that affect seamen and port workers reflects the dangerous nature of marine jobs. This is more tragic when the accidents are caused by negligent employers or vessel owners.
The Port of Virginia and Maritime Accidents
As in most industrial workplaces, maritime port facilities are full of hazards. The Port of Virginia’s facilities in Hampton Roads and Newport News have strict safety protocols in place, but accidents still occur and workers are killed or seriously injured on the job.
On March 28, 2011, a longshoreman was killed when she was hit by a forklift as she was working in the Port of Virginia’s APM Terminals in Portsmouth. Paula Bellamy, 38, was guiding a crane operator in an offloading operation of a cargo ship docked at the waterfront. Bellamy was talking on her radio as her co-worker maneuvered the crane when a forklift carrying a load of steel bins and struck the Ceres Marine “slinger.” Bellamy was taken to a nearby hospital but died of her injuries. The initial investigation determined that the forklift driver’s forward view was blocked by the load of bins and that the forklift was being driven forward instead of in reverse. The forklift operator did not follow the Occupational Safety and Administration (OSHA) regulation that forklifts must be driven in reverse when their forward view is blocked by the load they are carrying.
On December 22, 2009, a 43-year-old dock foreman was killed at the Norfolk International Terminals (VIT) after a straddle carrier driven by another longshore worker struck a 105-foot lighr pole and caused it to fall on the foreman’s vehicle. David B. Weiland, a Navy veteran, was in his 1998 Hyundai doing paperwork and guiding the positioning of containers when the straddle carrier driven by Michael C. Martin II hit the light pole with his vehicle. The pole fell across Weiland’s car, killing him almost immediately.
Although Martin was later cleared of criminal negligence, OSHA levied VIT with its maximum fine of $7,000 for serious violations of safety standards. Per a review of the accident, OSHA investigators noted that Martin had a history of prior crashes. In its report, OSHA also determined that the employer had not given Martin the required refresher training after his previous vehicle-related accidents. OSHA criticized VIT for failing to act in a situation when there is “substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could occur and where the employer knew, or should have known, of the hazard.”
Before the 2011 and 2009 fatalities, five other maritime workers died in industrial accidents at the state-owned terminals since 2005.
Seamen working from the Port of Virginia are also at risk of being injured in accidents on the job. They can be injured at any point of a voyage; accidents occur when vessels are in port or when they’re en route to their intended destinations. In Virginia, many accidents involve civilian ships and U.S. Navy vessels. The Navy operates several bases in the state and even shares some facilities with the Port of Virginia. Though U.S. Navy personnel are not included under the protection of the Jones Act, American seamen who work on civilian ships can file for compensation per federal admiralty laws.
In February of 1999, the USS Arthur W. Radford, a 563-ft long destroyer of the Spruance class, collided with a container ship 25 miles off the Virginia coast. The Radford was carrying out routine operations east of Cape Henry Light when it crossed onto the path of a container ship bound for Baltimore. Both ships suffered structural damage but were able to reach port. One sailor suffered a broken arm.
Resources For Injured Maritime Workers
If you are a maritime worker who was injured on the job at the Port of Virginia or any vessel that operates from there, you need to know that you are protected by a set of federal laws intended to guarantee compensation for your injuries. It is important that you do not give any written or verbal statement to representatives of your employer’s insurance company beyond an initial accident report.
The insurance company agents may seem as though they want to help you get compensation for your injuries as quickly as possible. They may also tell you they just want the facts of the accident while your memories are still fresh. The reality is that your employer and the insurer want to pay the least amount of compensation even before your physician can tell you if you will be able to return to work. It is recommended that you don’t sign any documents or go to a physician chosen by the insurance company.
For more information on what compensation you may be eligible for, please see our articles Compensation Covered Under Jones Act and The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.