Maritime workers face unique challenges and risks in their line of work, often requiring them to perform physically demanding tasks in demanding environments. Among the various injuries that can occur in the maritime industry, back injuries are among the most common and debilitating.
If you work in the maritime industry and suffer a back injury, it is important to speak with a skilled maritime injury attorney to discuss your legal rights, and the options you may have to obtain compensation.
In the article below, the maritime injury attorneys at Kherkher Garcia explore when maritime workers can file a claim for back injuries, the legal framework governing these claims, and the steps you can take to protect your rights and seek compensation.
The Maritime Industry and Maritime Law
The maritime industry encompasses a wide range of activities, from fishing and shipping to offshore drilling and cruise liners. Workers in this industry are exposed to harsh weather conditions, heavy machinery, and physically demanding tasks, all of which can contribute to back injuries. These injuries can be caused by sudden accidents or develop gradually over time due to repetitive strain.
Maritime workers have specific legal protections and remedies when it comes to workplace injuries, including those affecting the back. These protections are primarily governed by the Jones Act and the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA).
The Jones Act, also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, provides legal rights to seamen who are injured while working aboard vessels in navigable waters.
To qualify as a seaman under the Jones Act, an individual must have a substantial connection to a vessel in navigation. This connection typically involves contributing to the vessel’s mission or operations.
When a maritime worker qualifies as a seaman, they can file a personal injury claim against their employer if their back injury was caused by the employer’s negligence.
Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act
The LHWCA is a federal workers’ compensation system that provides benefits to maritime workers who are not considered seamen but are engaged in maritime employment.
Under the LHWCA, workers can file claims for back injuries and other work-related injuries to receive medical benefits and wage replacement.
Unlike the Jones Act, the LHWCA does not require proving negligence on the part of the employer; it provides a no-fault system for compensating injured workers.
When Can Maritime Workers File a Claim for Back Injuries?
Maritime workers can file a claim for back injuries if the injury occurs on the job, and the employer or a third party has any degree of negligence. Maritime injury claims most often fall under the following two laws:
Jones Act Claims
To file a claim under the Jones Act, maritime workers must demonstrate that their back injury resulted from their employer’s negligence or the unseaworthiness of the vessel. Negligence may include unsafe working conditions, failure to provide proper equipment, or inadequate training. To establish negligence, workers should:
- Document the accident or incident that caused the injury.
- Seek immediate medical attention and keep detailed medical records.
- Report the injury to their employer as soon as possible.
- Consult with an attorney experienced in maritime law to assess the merits of their case.
For maritime workers seeking compensation under the LHWCA, the process is generally less complicated than pursuing a Jones Act claim. Workers must:
- Report the injury to their employer within 30 days.
- Seek medical treatment from an approved healthcare provider.
- File a written claim with the Department of Labor within one year of the injury or death.
- Keep detailed records of all medical treatment, expenses, and wage loss.
Common Causes of Back Injuries in the Maritime Industry
Back injuries can occur in various maritime occupations due to the physically demanding nature of the work and the challenging environmental conditions. Some common causes of back injuries in the maritime industry include:
- Heavy Lifting: Maritime workers often need to lift heavy cargo, equipment, and machinery, which can lead to muscle strains and spinal injuries if proper lifting techniques are not followed.
- Slip and Falls: Slippery decks, especially in adverse weather conditions, can lead to slips and falls that result in back injuries.
- Repetitive Motion: Jobs that involve repetitive motions, such as twisting, bending, or lifting, can cause cumulative trauma to the back over time.
- Vibration: Workers on vessels or heavy machinery may be exposed to continuous vibrations, which can contribute to back injuries and long-term spinal problems.
- Falling Objects: Objects falling from heights or shifting during transport can strike maritime workers, causing back injuries.
Common Types of Back Injuries in the Maritime Industry
The maritime industry encompasses a wide range of activities, from fishing and shipping to offshore drilling and cruise liners. Workers in this industry are exposed to various hazards and physically demanding tasks, which can lead to a variety of back injuries. Common back injuries in the maritime industry include:
Strains and Sprains
One of the most common back injuries in the maritime industry is muscle strains and ligament sprains. These can occur when workers engage in activities that require heavy lifting, twisting, or sudden movements, often seen during cargo handling and maintenance tasks.
Herniated or slipped discs are another prevalent back injury. These occur when the soft, gel-like center of a spinal disc protrudes through the tough outer layer, putting pressure on nearby nerves. This can result from heavy lifting or repetitive bending and twisting.
Fractured vertebrae or other bones in the spine can happen due to falls, accidents, or being struck by heavy objects, especially in high-risk areas like offshore drilling rigs.
Maritime workers may suffer from compression injuries, where the spine is compressed due to a fall or accident, leading to fractures, nerve damage, and long-term pain.
Degenerative Disc Disease
Workers who engage in repetitive tasks over time, such as constant bending and lifting, may develop degenerative disc disease. This condition involves the gradual deterioration of spinal discs, leading to chronic back pain.
Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back down the legs, becomes compressed or irritated. It can cause severe back pain, leg pain, and numbness. In maritime workers, this may result from prolonged periods of sitting or working in awkward positions.
Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal that can compress the spinal cord or nerves, leading to back pain and sometimes leg pain. It can develop over time due to the wear and tear associated with maritime work.
Spondylolisthesis occurs when one vertebra slips forward over another. It can result from repetitive motion, such as bending and twisting, or acute trauma, leading to back pain and potential nerve compression.
Muscle Fatigue and Overuse
Maritime workers often have physically demanding jobs that require lifting, pulling, and pushing heavy objects. Over time, this can lead to muscle fatigue and overuse injuries, contributing to chronic back pain.
It is important to note that these back injuries can vary in severity, and their impact on a maritime worker’s ability to perform their job and overall quality of life can differ greatly.
Damages Available for Maritime Back Injury Claims
Maritime injury claims can involve a variety of damages that are available to injured parties, depending on the circumstances of the injury, the applicable laws, and the specific facts of the case. Here are some common types of damages that may be available in maritime injury claims:
Injured parties can typically recover the cost of medical treatment, including doctor’s visits, surgeries, hospital stays, prescription medications, rehabilitation, and any other reasonable and necessary medical expenses related to the injury.
Lost Wages and Income
If the maritime injury results in the victim being unable to work, they may be entitled to compensation for lost wages and income, including past and future earnings.
Pain and Suffering
This category of damages covers the physical and emotional pain and suffering experienced as a result of the injury. It’s often subjective and can vary widely depending on the severity of the injury and its long-term impact.
Disability or Impairment
If the maritime injury results in a permanent disability or impairment, the injured party may be entitled to compensation for the loss of future earning capacity and the impact on their quality of life.
If the injury causes permanent disfigurement or scarring, the injured party may be entitled to damages to compensate for the physical and emotional distress associated with the change in appearance.
Loss of Consortium
In some cases, spouses or family members of the injured party may be able to seek compensation for the loss of companionship, affection, and support resulting from the injury.
In cases where the responsible party’s conduct was particularly reckless or intentional, punitive damages may be awarded to punish the wrongdoer and deter similar behavior in the future.
Maintenance and Cure
In admiralty law, seamen are entitled to maintenance and cure, which means that their employer must provide them with necessary living expenses (maintenance) and medical care (cure) while they recover from injuries or illnesses suffered in the course of their employment.
Wrongful Death Damages
If a maritime injury results in the death of the injured party, their surviving family members may be able to seek damages for wrongful death, which can include funeral expenses, loss of financial support, and compensation for the emotional suffering caused by the loss.
Maritime injury claims can be complex and the specific damages available can vary depending on factors such as the type of maritime work, the location of the incident, the employment relationship, and applicable laws. That’s why it is so important to work with a maritime injury attorney to assess your rights and best options for compensation.
Get Help with Your Maritime Back Injury Claim
When pursuing any type of maritime injury claim, prompt reporting, thorough documentation, and consultation with an experienced maritime injury attorney are essential steps to protect your rights and secure the compensation and care that you deserve.
At Kherkher Garcia, we have more than three decades of experience helping maritime workers obtain compensation for on the job injuries, including back injuries. We are well versed in maritime law and know how to build a strong case and advocate for your best interests. To get help with your maritime back injury claim, contact us for a free consultation.
You can call us at 713-333-1030, or complete our online contact form to get started.
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