Boat on a Freshwater Lake in the United StatesMaritime work does not always involve large ships crossing a wide expanse of ocean. Many U.S. states rely on seamen and maritime employees for work on inland lakes and rivers. The Great Lakes of Michigan, Flathead Lake in Montana, Lake Tahoe along the California and Nevada border, and even the Florida Everglades are all comprised of freshwater—along with countless other rivers and streams. Depending on where your accident took place, your injury and disability costs may be covered by maritime law.

How Injuries Occur on Freshwater Lakes and Rivers

Freshwater lakes and rivers may not contain salt, but they carry all of the same risks of injury and death as any other major body of water. If your vessel was traveling on a waterway that feeds into an ocean or is regularly used for commercial shipping, you may be owed injury benefits under the Jones Act, including lost wages, payment of your medical bills, compensation for lost future earning capacity, and damages for pain and suffering.

Maritime employees may be covered for a freshwater maritime accident involving:

  • Fishing boats. Large freshwater lakes offer year-round opportunities for commercial fishermen, many of whom may be injured due to net entanglements, repetitive strain injury, slips and falls, or other accidents.
  • Shipping vessels. Freshwater lakes may be used to transport millions of tons of cargo from state to state or even between neighboring countries. For example, the Great Lakes are a network of waterways that border several states, but also offer a shipping route to Canada, making them vital for the transport of oil, grain, building materials, and other bulk cargo.
  • Ferries or transportation. In many states in the nation, it may be cheaper or more convenient for locals and visitors to travel over the water than on land. Both residents and out-of-towners may rely on ferry boats, water taxis, and other vessels to get them from one port or city to another, often without leaving the boundaries of the state.
  • Tourism or recreation. Waterways that surround large cities may employ maritime workers year-round, while others only require additional workers during busy summer months. Workers who regularly serve commuters and tourists, such as piloting boats, operating sightseeing and river cruises, loading and unloading passengers’ bags, or working on the harbor may be covered under The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. This law provides income loss and medical benefits to any worker employed in a maritime occupation, not just those who are considered seamen.
  • Infection or disease. Untreated bodies of water have the potential to harbor bacteria and microorganisms that can cause the spread of serious illnesses, especially if they host millions of swimmers in a busy season. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) over 80% of waterborne disease outbreaks of norovirus and E. coli occur due to contamination of lakes, ponds, and reservoirs. Divers are particularly at risk in freshwater lakes due to the potential presence of dangerous amoeba such as Naegleria fowleri, which can be fatal if they enter the brain through the nasal cavity.
  • Rough weather. All bodies of water can be subject to sudden dangerous conditions, including steep waves, broken banks, sudden flooding, and storms. If conditions suddenly turn harsh, sailors can suffer falls overboard, capsizing, or drowning incidents.
  • Negligence. Unfortunately, negligence can occur on all waterways, with shipowners and employers allowing hazards to exist on their vessels that put workers at risk. Under the Jones Act, maritime workers can file lawsuits against employers whose carelessness caused an injury or occupational illness.

If you or a loved one has been injured while performing maritime work, our attorneys can determine who may be liable for your accident and what you are owed under the law. Call (800) 362-9329 today to set up your initial consultation or download your complimentary copy of Are You a Seaman Injured in a Maritime Accident? Know Your Rights today.


Paul T. Hofmann
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Focused on personal injury, with an emphasis on maritime, railroad and construction worker tort claims.
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