What You Need to Know About Offshore Injury Accidents
Offshore accidents can be devastating. Most recently, the Seacor Power lift boat capsized off the Gulf of Mexico, leaving 13 of the 19 crew dead or presumed dead. The tragic maritime accident reinforced what many already knew: Offshore jobs can be extremely dangerous.
A study from 2014-2018 analyzed occupational injury and fatalities across the country. The results? On the list of most dangerous jobs in the United States, Derrick operators in the oil, gas, and mining industry ranked third for the highest-risk. Transportation incidents, such as helicopters and boats bringing workers to job sites, have been the most common cause of fatal offshore accidents.
Offshore oil and gas platforms present many safety hazards and risks for workers. As an injured maritime worker or as the family of a worker who has died, it’s important to understand your legal options. Offshore injury accident claims are complex, and there’s a lot to know about how maritime law, including the Jones Act, impacts who could be held liable and the damages that can be sought. The first step is knowing common causes of offshore accidents, the risks, and the types of injuries maritime workers could suffer.
Types of Jobs with Offshore Accident Risks
Offshore accidents are accidents that happen at sea. Those in the oil and gas extraction industry are seven times more likely to suffer an occupational fatality than the average American. There’s also the significant and sometimes irreversible environmental damage that can – and has – occurred.
Offshore oil rig workers, including drillers and roustabouts, have some of the highest risks on the job. They have long shifts that are physically demanding, and injuries related to falls, equipment, training, and exposure present daily hazards. The possibility of additional dangers and unsafe conditions, including fires, explosions, harsh weather, and transportation accidents, all when far from hospitals and emergency services, further emphasize what oil rig workers might encounter on the job.
Seamen are other workers in high-risk, offshore jobs. Maritime accidents on boats due to poor weather, the vessel not being seaworthy, and the general condition and design of vessels can lead to slips and falls, even drownings and sunken ships. Decisions to leave port in harsh weather conditions present another risk, which was a widely criticized factor in the Seacor Power boat accident.
Underwater welders have an even greater risk of death. While those in the offshore industry are already seven times more likely to die on the job than others, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found underwater welders have 40 times the fatality rate than the national average.
Maritime jobs involve working around slippery decks, narrow passageways, heavy and dangerous machinery, and equipment that could become detached in rough seas; the environment and conditions of oil rigs and platforms present many hazards.
Causes of Maritime Accidents
Maritime accidents that lead to the most fatalities occur during transportation to offshore work sites, but several other causes and types of offshore accidents occur. Some of these involve barges, diving, cranes, deepwater drilling, marine salvage, tugboats, and jack-up rigs.
Beyond transportation fatalities and injuries, weather conditions present dangerous and often unstable situations on oil rigs and platforms. Oil and gas leaks have resulted in explosions and fires, and we’ve seen many of these maritime accidents become catastrophic for workers. Faulty equipment, misuse of equipment, fatigue, lack of training or supervision, unsafe on-board conditions, leaks, deck hazards, and chemical exposure are other causes of offshore injuries and death.
Maritime accident attorneys in Louisiana and states surrounding the Gulf of Mexico have represented many workers and their families in offshore tragedies. With 15% of total U.S. crude oil production in the Gulf of Mexico and over 1,800 oil platforms that produce about 2 million barrels of crude oil a day, it’s a fast-paced and dangerous industry.
In addition, poor safety measures, or a company’s outright failure to meet safety regulations for their equipment and machinery, put workers in increased danger. Inadequate staff training is also a factor in maritime accidents, as they create risky situations aboard platforms, transportation vessels, and rigs.
Unfortunately, many times, offshore accidents could have been prevented. Oil and gas companies that own, operate, commission, and lease rigs, platforms and boats have cut corners, broken maritime law, and failed to provide a safe work environment. Many of these companies were found negligent in maritime accident claims, including the BP oil spill disaster in 2010.
Types of Offshore Accident Injuries
When maritime accidents occur, there’s a great risk to offshore workers. Fires, explosions, falls, exposure to toxic materials, and capsized vessels are all accidents that offshore workers could experience. While those more serious accidents are less common, they’re often catastrophic.
The types of maritime injuries suffered when offshore accidents occur include:
- Brain injury
- Loss of limb
- Spinal injury
- Back injury
- Compartment Syndrome
- Respiratory conditions
- Broken bones
Navigating maritime law and liability takes significant experience. At Herman, Herman & Katz, our offshore injury attorneys’ specialized skills and extensive experience have helped injured maritime workers and their families recover more than $35 billion.
Maritime Law, The Jones Act & Safety Regulations
Oil rig owners and operators have an obligation to oversee their employees’ work and provide a work environment that adheres to offshore safety regulations and maritime law. However, given the dangers and complicated tasks, far too many offshore injuries and fatalities occur each year.
When a maritime worker is performing duties at or in transportation to an offshore job site, and an accident occurs, some specific laws and regulations protect workers, including:
- The Jones Act
- The Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA)
- General Maritime Law
- Longshoremen & Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA)
Several factors impact the legal options following a maritime accident. Where the offshore injury occurred and the type of job performed will determine which laws are applicable.
The Jones Act
Maritime injury attorneys may find the employer failed to meet their responsibilities outlined in the Jones Act upon investigating offshore accident cases. Some of these include providing a safe workplace, proper equipment and gear, and the supervision and training of employees about safe work methods.
If employer negligence played a part in the worker’s offshore injury, they could seek damages under the Jones Act. In general, most injured offshore workers have three years from the date they were injured to do so.
The Death on the High Seas Act
When an offshore accident happens more than three nautical miles from shore and results in a worker’s death or presumed death, their spouse, parent, child or dependent may file a lawsuit under the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA). If multiple offshore employees die, DOHSA requires one representative to pursue damages on behalf of all families. It also limits the claims to financial losses only.
General Maritime Law
Maritime injury cases are complex and may involve multiple laws and legal options. General maritime law opens the door for claims against the owner of the vessel the accident occurred on, rather than the offshore employer, which the Jones Act is limited to.
The focus of general maritime law is that vessels are required to be seaworthy; a ship does not meet seaworthiness unless all parts of it and the crew are reasonably fit and safe for what they’re meant to do. Maritime law also covers punitive damages.
Longshoremen & Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA)
Many maritime accidents happen at sea, but not all. Other industry employees include those that build, service and load ships, drive trucks, operate forklifts and handle cargo. These maritime workers are also at risk of unsafe conditions, including exposure to hazardous chemicals, faulty equipment and poor weather. Broken bones, spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, burns and hypothermia are some of the injuries resulting from these accidents.
Onshore workers covered by the Longshoremen and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act can collect compensation for medical fees, rehabilitation and disability payments. If the maritime worker dies, the surviving family may collect death benefits.
What to Do When Injured in an Offshore Accident
Immediately following an offshore accident, stop working and report it to your supervisor. Companies with staff on offshore rigs and platforms have safety protocols in place, including required accident reporting.
Request medical attention if in pain or hurt, take photos of where it occurred, and note any conditions at the time (rough seas, equipment malfunction, or other conditions). Also, note witnesses, if applicable, and get their contact information. As an injured offshore worker, it’s crucial you do not sign anything before speaking with a maritime accident attorney.
The injuries and fatalities sustained by offshore workers are significant, and New Orleans-based law firm Herman, Herman & Katz can help those affected by maritime tragedies. Our Louisiana offshore accident attorneys were instrumental in reaching a multi-billion-dollar settlement and leading the infamous BP oil spill trial in 2010.
How an Offshore Injury Lawyer Can Help
Being injured on or in transport to an oil rig or platform can be life changing and costly on a financial and emotional level. The offshore injury lawyers at Herman, Herman & Katz specialize in maritime accidents. We provide clients with offshore injury expertise to determine whether there was negligence and if maritime law or safety regulations were broken. Our success and determination have resulted in the compensation that injured workers and their families deserve. For more information about possible legal options regarding an offshore accident, call us toll-free at 844-943-7626 or online for a free consultation.