Articles Posted in Maritime Accidents

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shipSeamen injured on the job are not entitled to file workers’ compensation claims. Under the federal Jones Act, they have the right to sue their employer for personal injury damages. The burden for proving that a defendant’s negligence was the legal cause of a plaintiff’s injuries is lower, however, than it is in a standard personal injury case.

In Vo v. Ho Kim Doan, a Texas court considered a case brought under the Jones Act. The plaintiff worked on board the Larry Vo when shrimp season began in 2006. On the day of the accident, shrimp nets were being pulled up when a rope got stuck in the pulley and broke, causing the turtle head to fall and strike the plaintiff. A turtle head is a device that permits a sea turtle to escape from the shrimp net. The plaintiff lost consciousness and later sued for injuries, including a permanently disfigured finger and various problems with his neck, head, and back.

The boat came to port, and the plaintiff saw a doctor. He was given medication and $500. He sued various Vo family members. Various members of the Vo family testified later that they saw the plaintiff walking normally just a few days after the return of the boat. One of them also testified someone couldn’t survive if the turtle head fell directly on him. The plaintiff’s treating physician later testified that the injuries suffered by the plaintiff were consistent with a heavy object hitting him in the back of the head.

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boat.jpgThe National Safe Boating Council (NSBC) runs the North American Safe Boating Campaign each year. In advance of the kick off to summer, the week leading up to Memorial Day Weekend (May 18-24, 2013) is recognized as National Safe Boating Week.

As part of National Safe Boating Week, the U.S. Coast Guard initiated its “Wear It” campaign. The Coast Guard’s Safe Boating Campaign also advocates the following principles:

1. Wearing a life jacket saves lives.
2. Designate a driver. Sober boating saves lives.
3. Boater education saves lives.
4. Safe boats save lives.

The campaign hopes to educate the boating community about the importance of wearing life jackets and the various life jacket options available.

In 2012, an estimated 651 boating deaths were reported nationwide. Moreover, in 2011, the Coast Guard counted nearly 4,600 accidents that led to 758 deaths, 3,081 injuries and approximately $52 million dollars of property damage. Highlighting the importance of wearing a life jacket, 70% of those individuals involved in fatal boating accidents drowned, and 84% were not wearing a life jacket. Not surprisingly, the highest incidents of these accidents occur during the summer months of June and July.

A 21% increase in Texas boating accidents from 2010 to 2011 underscores the need for additional boating safety awareness. In Texas alone, 162 accidents were reported in 2012, with 32 fatalities reported. Texas Parks and Wildlife partnered with the Lower Colorado River Authority, the NSBC, the U.S. Coast Guard and other sponsors to promote the “Nobody’s Waterproof” campaign. The campaign is designed to increase water safety awareness and encourage the practice of safe boating. Texas also participates in the “Wear It” campaign.

In addition to the importance of wearing life jackets, it is essential to highlight the risks of driving a boat under the influence of alcohol. Driving a boat under the influence is just as dangerous as driving a car while impaired. It is illegal in all states to operate a boat while under the influence. According to the 2012 Recreational Boating Statistics released by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Coast Guard, aside from Florida, the State of Texas had the highest number of boating accidents that cited alcohol as a contributing factor.

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cruise 3.jpgWhen the Carnival Triumph cruise ship broke loose from the Alabama Cruise Terminal with approximately 800 crewmembers and workers still onboard in early April, it was just the latest in a series of highly publicized maritime incidents taking place in the past several months. Earlier this year, an engine on the Carnival Triumph, which set sail from Galveston, Texas, caught fire and left the cruise ship without electricity and adrift in the Gulf of Mexico for four days. With no air conditioning, cold food, and toilets that would not flush, conditions on the ship became potentially toxic for the more than 4,200 passengers and crew aboard the ship. In fact, at least 16 Texans that were aboard the Triumph that sailed out of Galveston, Texas, are suing Carnival Cruise Lines for exposing them to unsafe, unsanitary and unreasonable living conditions for five days.

Unfortunately, fires, mechanical malfunctions, norovirus outbreaks, and even the sinking of ships have been occurring with increased frequency. In fact, the same week that the engine fire ignited on the Carnival Triumph in February 2013, three other Carnival ships became disabled following mechanical malfunctions. In addition, since November 2010 more than 10 cruise ship fires have been reported in the media. This number does not even account for the minor, and still potentially dangerous, fires that are not reported to the media.

While the United States has been attempting to address issues regarding cruise ship passenger safety through congressional hearings during the past decade, regulation can be difficult since many major cruise lines are incorporated in foreign countries and thus avoid U.S. labor laws and safety regulations. Moreover, though cruise ships are supposed to file guidelines set forth by the International Maritime Organization, the organization does not have the authority to enforce its own guidelines or impose fines. As a result, unlike the U.S. commercial aviation industry, which is under the tight supervision of the Federal Aviation Administration, cruise lines go largely unregulated.

Despite this overall lack of supervision, however, the Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides some oversight by carrying out unannounced inspections of cruise ships, monitoring and controlling the introduction, transmission, and spread of gastrointestinal illnesses on cruise ships, and providing health education to the cruise ship industry and general public. The VSP has jurisdiction over all cruise ships with over 13 passengers that have a foreign itinerary with U.S. ports.

In 2012, the CDC reported at least 16 norovirus outbreaks. In response to the reported norovirus outbreaks, which cause vomiting and diarrhea, the VSP advises cruise ships to:

• Increase cleaning and disinfection procedures according to their outbreak prevention and response plan;
• Make announcements to both notify onboard passengers of the outbreak and encourage case reporting;
• Collect stool specimens from ill passengers and crew for submission to the CDC lab;
• Make twice daily reports of gastrointestinal illness cases to the VSP; and
• Consult with CDC on plans for future passenger notification procedures and disembarkation plans for active cases, and infection control procedures.

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