Accident and Injury Frequently Asked Questions
Many accident victims are overwhelmed by their injuries, and the thought of a legal case can seem daunting. At Hofmann & Schweitzer, our legal team understands these feelings, and we’ve compiled our thoughts on many common worries here to help you get started finding the answers you need to protect yourself and your family. If you’ve been hurt in a construction, maritime, or railroad accident, browse our FAQs today.
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What is unseaworthiness?
Like all employers, shipowners are required to provide their employees with a reasonably safe work environment. If the vessel is not safe for navigation, the maritime employer or shipowner can be named in a negligence lawsuit, allowing the injured seaman to recover injury costs and punitive damages.
Understanding Unseaworthiness Under Maritime Law
A ship does not have to be in disrepair or completely unable to sail to be rendered “unseaworthy.” In order for a vessel to be considered seaworthy under maritime law, the vessel must be suitable and able to perform its specific and intended functions without placing seaman at unnecessary risk.
Some Examples of Unseaworthy Conditions
All parts of the ship, including the hull, structure, decks, and equipment, must be adequately maintained and regularly inspected to ensure they are fit for use.
A vessel may be unseaworthy if it attempts to perform work (such as towing or dredging) that it was not designed to do. A vessel may also be flawed if the original design specifications made the ship inherently unsafe.
Outdated or Failing Components
Any one component that is dangerous can render the entire vessel unseaworthy, such as cranes, winches, lines, cables, or other necessary equipment.
Untrained or Inadequate Crew Members
Since the crew is necessary to the function of the ship, an inadequate crew can be considered an unseaworthy condition. An inadequate crew member could be one that is drunk on the job, was not properly trained for the specific work being performed, or otherwise caused a seaman to be injured in the course of his duties.
In a Jones Act negligence case, the burden of proof on the injured seamen is very light. However, the injured seamen will still have to establish a direct link between the unseaworthy condition and the injury. Our maritime accident lawyers know what evidence is required to prove negligence in unseaworthiness claims, and can advise you of your rights at no cost to you. Contact us online or call (800) 362-9329 today to speak with a maritime lawyer at Hofmann & Schweitzer. You can also download your complimentary copy of Are You a Seaman Injured in a Maritime Accident? Know Your Rights today.
How does the Jones Act protect injured seamen from retaliation?
If you are a maritime employee who is assigned to a vessel, you are likely eligible to receive compensation under the Jones Act after an injury on the job. Like state workers’ compensation, the Jones Act is a federal law that provides wage and medical benefits (called maintenance and cure) after a work-related injury, and makes it illegal to retaliate against a worker who files a benefit claim. However, the Jones Act also gives injured seamen the right to sue their employers and shipowners for negligence.
Jones Act Protections Against Retaliation of an Injured Seaman
If you file for compensation under the Jones Act, it is illegal for a shipowner or employer to fire you for exercising your right to benefits. It is also illegal to threaten a seaman’s job to prevent him from filing a Jones Act claim. This is called “retaliatory discharge,” and it can carry serious consequences for the shipowner as well as benefits for the injured worker. Unfortunately, many employees do not know this, and attempt to cope with an injury with no way to pay for their medical bills.
In addition to payment for past and future medical expenses, physical pain, emotional distress, disability, and lost earning capacity, a case that involves retaliatory discharge may result in:
If you are terminated or laid off as a result of seeking injury or wage payments, you can collect additional damages for the hardship you suffered as a result of the discrimination in your injury case.
Wage loss payments with interest
If you lost your job because you were injured, you have the right to be compensated for the wages you would have earned if you had not been unfairly terminated, plus interest.
Any unfairly terminated employee must be reinstated to his or her former position with the same pay and privileges of original employment.
An employer who is found guilty of retaliatory discharge may be ordered to pay for the injured worker’s attorney fees, expert witness fees, and litigation costs.
If your employer fired you after you filed for benefits, it may lend extra weight to your injury claim. Call (800) 362-9329 today to speak with a Jones Act lawyer at Hofmann & Schweitzer or download your complimentary copy of Are You a Seaman Injured in a Maritime Accident? Know Your Rights today.
What are some common tactics insurance companies use to limit maritime injury claims?
After you have been injured on the job, you may be relying on your employer to provide payment for your medical bills and lost income. Unfortunately, many employers and their insurance companies will first look for ways to limit or deny claims instead of paying out.
5 Ways Insurers Deny Fair Payment for a Maritime Injury
Injury treatments can have expensive and long-lasting effects, and it is far more profitable for the insurance company to deny valid claims than pay for them. Some insurers may claim that the injury was caused by a pre-existing medical condition, or stop payments before the worker’s injuries have healed, forcing him to return to work too soon.
Insurers use many different tactics to deny maritime employees fair compensation, but the most common methods include:
Offering An Early Settlement For Your Maritime Injury
Insurance companies have teams of adjusters to calculate how much your claim could potentially cost them, allowing them to offer settlements for a fraction of the full amount. Once you accept a settlement, you cannot ask for more money later—even if your injury prevents you from earning a living.
Taking Statements Regarding Your Maritime Injury
Insurers will typically contact injured employees soon after the accident to obtain a recorded statement. While they may claim that these statements are used to document the incident, they are actually fact-finding missions to discover potential ways to deny benefits. For this reason, injured workers should never agree to give a recorded statement to an insurer or employer.
Refusing Your Choice of Physician
Injured maritime employees have the right to choose the physician who will perform and oversee their treatment. However, employers may attempt to steer the employee toward one of the company’s recommended physicians. These doctors may be on the company payroll or otherwise influenced by the employer, and may release you to return to work before you are ready.
Forcing You To See a Company Doctor
Even if you have already selected a doctor for your treatment, your employer may require you to see the company physician. However, submitting to this request can severely damage your maritime claim. Company physicians may not perform adequate or expensive diagnostic testing, advise you to resume working as early as possible, or make entries in your medical record that can be used against you in the future.
Attacking Your Credibility
If the insurer thinks you have a good chance at collecting compensation, the company may perform surveillance of your activities in order to convince a judge that you are lying about the extent of your injuries. The company may also use your own words against you, especially any statements or accusations you made early in your claim.
Our New York City maritime attorneys can fight on your side to get you the maximum you may be owed for your injury. Simply call (800) 362-9329 today to speak with a lawyer at Hofmann & Schweitzer or download your complimentary copy of Are You a Seaman Injured in a Maritime Accident? Know Your Rights today.
Can I sue my employer for a construction injury?
Under workers' compensation laws, an injured employee gives up the right to file an injury lawsuit against a co-worker or employer. Workers' compensation was created as a no-fault system, so it guarantees benefits regardless of who caused the injury. However, New York laws do allow a co-worker or employer to be named in a work injury lawsuit if the employee suffered a particularly serious injury.
NY Employees Can Sue Employers After a Grave Construction Injury
New York workers' compensation law contains a special provision allowing employers to be sued after a work accident. An employee who has suffered a "grave injury" can file a third-party lawsuit against a contractor, construction site owner, or other party whose negligence contributed to the injury. The third-party then has the right to bring the employer into the lawsuit to share liability for the injury and damages, adding to the injured worker’s potential recovery.
An employer may be brought into a work injury lawsuit if the employee suffered one or more of the following:
- Total and permanent blindness
- Total and permanent deafness
- Loss of a nose
- Loss of an ear
- Permanent and severe facial disfigurement
- Loss of an index finger
- Loss of multiple fingers
- Loss of multiple toes
- Permanent and total loss of use (including amputation) of an arm, leg, hand or foot
- Paraplegia or quadriplegia
- Injury to the brain caused by an external physical force resulting in permanent total disability
If you were injured while working on a New York City construction site, we can help you get the workers’ compensation benefits you deserve and determine whether you may be able to file a third-party claim. Our team will examine who may be to blame for the accident, gather the medical evidence that proves the extent of your injuries, and hire medical experts to determine how your injuries may affect your financial future. Fill out our quick online contact form or call (800) 362-9329 to speak with a construction injury lawyer at Hofmann & Schweitzer today.
What are the biggest risks to divers who perform underwater welding?
Underwater welding combines all of the hazards of hot work with the potential for drowning, making it one of the most deadly jobs performed by maritime workers. Data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) suggests an average of 13 workers per year suffer fatal injuries during commercial dive activities, and the number may be even higher due to lack of complete reporting.
Causes of Fatal Injury in Underwater Welding Accidents
In a study of occupational diving fatalities in the United States between 1989-1997, OSHA revealed 116 reported deaths among 3000 full-time commercial divers—a death rate nearly 40 times the national average across all industries. An employee who performs construction activities as part of a dive team is at even higher risk of severe or fatal injury, including:
Drowning remains the overwhelming cause of death for commercial divers. Common elements that lead to drowning are failure to identify signs of distress, solo diving, high wave currents, and becoming entangled or pinned by equipment.
Defective heavy machinery may cause bodily trauma or electric shock, while handheld welding tools may cause burns and explosions.
Underwater welders should be trained on proper decompression procedures during deep dives. Even with adequate training and certification, divers may suffer decompression sickness (called “the bends”) or embolism due to the necessity of immediate surfacing to treat their wounds.
Maritime workers may be so focused on the job they are performing that they ignore the warning signs of hypothermia. Divers working on large projects such as hull repair or pipe maintenance must be given adequate breaks and stay in regular contact with crews on the surface.
Each year brings improvements to diving gear, construction equipment, and safety standards that protect maritime employees. However, workers will see little benefit from these advances if employers and shipowners do not bring these practices onboard.
If you or someone you love has been injured in a maritime welding accident, we can examine the details of your case to get you the maximum compensation you may be owed for your injury. Simply fill out our quick online contact form or call (800) 362-9329 today to speak with a lawyer at Hofmann & Schweitzer about your case.
Can I hire a maritime accident lawyer from any state?
Maritime injuries can involve a mix of state and federal laws, and each one will have its own limitations and options for compensation. As maritime injury lawyers who are based in New York, we represent clients across the country who have suffered an injury at sea, many of whom once worked on or near the Port of New York and New Jersey.
How a New York Maritime Attorney Can Benefit Your Injury Case
Maritime laws are federal, meaning they protect U.S. injury victims no matter what state they are from. In theory, this means that any attorney who is licensed to do so may file a claim for a maritime injury. However, there may be many additional laws that can apply to your case depending on where you live and where the injury occurred—and an injury attorney who is unfamiliar with all the factors in your case may not currently determine who is liable for your injury costs.
If you suffered an injury at sea, you should strongly consider hiring an attorney who is familiar with:
There are many maritime doctrines that can apply to an injury case, including the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA), Jones Act, Death on the High Seas Act, and general maritime law.
State Injury Laws
New York state has a variety of laws that protect workers across several industries, including state workers’ compensation and construction worker injury laws. In addition, New York state laws protect victims who are injured in marinas, docks, harbors, and other marine facilities.
Multiple Statutes of Limitations
The manner in which the injury occurred could affect the length of time a victim has to file for compensation. For instance, most cruise ship accident claims must be filed within one year of the incident, while victims must file a notice of claim with a New York municipality within 90 days.
If you or someone you love has suffered an accident at sea, we can carefully examine the details of your case to get you the maximum compensation you may be owed for your injury. Simply fill out our quick online contact form or call (800) 362-9329 today to speak with a lawyer at Hofmann & Schweitzer about your case.
My maritime employer is trying to deny payment for my treatment. Can they do that?
Maritime laws state that employers are obligated to pay the costs of any reasonable medical treatment after an injury at sea. Unfortunately, many maritime employers and their insurance companies will deny payment for certain procedures that they think are too costly, claiming that these treatments are not actually necessary.
Common Medical Treatments Denied by Maritime Insurers
Although maritime employers are responsible for paying the medical bills, they are heavily involved in the process, creating a conflict of interest. All treatments must be authorized by the maritime employer in order to secure payment, and all injured workers are required to see a doctor who is approved by the insurance company. Injured workers should always see a trusted physician after an injury at sea, even if they are required to meet with a company physician.
Common Medical Treatments Often Denied By Insurance Companies
The costs of many surgical procedures, such as spinal fusion or joint replacement surgery, may range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Even if a doctor recommends surgery as the best possible treatment for an injury, the insurer may deny the expense, claiming that there are other less expensive treatments available and not all alternatives have been explored.
Doctors typically rely on a variety of diagnostic tests to fully understand the extent and nature of an injury, including x-rays, CT scans, or MRIs. However, a doctor working for the insurance company may neglect to order one or more scans to save the insurer money—or to avoid finding a potentially costly complication.
Workers may need physical therapy for months or years in order to improve mobility, as well as take medications to treat chronic pain.
Psychiatry or Counseling for PTSD
Insurers may reject claims for psychological consequences of an injury, claiming that the mental or emotional effects stem from a pre-existing condition or are not related to the work injury.
Insurers are often resistant to claims for prosthetic devices, wheelchairs, spinal cord stimulators, or other devices that can increase quality of life.
Our maritime injury attorneys are based in New York, but we represent clients across the country who have suffered an accident at sea. If your benefits have been denied or withheld, you may be able to collect punitive damages. Simply fill out our quick online contact form or call (800) 362-9329 today to schedule your free consultation.
Who can be held liable for a wrongful death due to a crane accident?
Crane accidents cause hundreds of injuries to construction workers every year, many of which are fatal. According to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), 220 workers were killed in crane-related deaths between 2011 to 2015, most of them employed in the private construction industry. When a construction worker loses his or her life, family members have a right to know who was responsible—and who should pay for the financial and emotional losses they have suffered.
Common Causes of Crane Accidents in the Construction Industry
The most common causes of crane fatalities involve loads dropping suddenly from a height, workers struck by swinging loads, or crane collapse. When these accidents occur, state laws allow families to collect workers’ compensation death benefits, but also grant the right to sue property owners and contractors for a New York construction injury.
Surviving family members may be able to seek damages from third parties if the crane accident resulted from:
Crane foundations must be installed according to manufacturer and safety specifications, and contractors could be liable for crane moement due to shifting ground conditions or installing the crane too close to electrical power lines.
If the crane was badly designed, not tested thoroughly, or suffered defects in the manufacturing process, the maker of the crane can be held liable. In addition, a product manufacturer can be liable if its crane components failed (such as rigging, hooks, slings, pulleys, or wire rope).
Lack of Training or Supervision
Contractors may be liable for deaths caused by unqualified crane operators, failure to appoint a signalman, or allowing crane operations without adequate supervision.
Failure to Warn
Crane manufacturers must provide clear warnings of the dangers of crane operation, including the risks of exceeding the load capacity of the crane.
Improper Maintenance or Inspections
Cranes must undergo rigorous inspection to identify any defects before they can be used to hoist loads. Unfortunately, many components fail because faulty conditions are not corrected or maintenance is not adequately performed.
While nothing can make up for the loss of a loved one, a wrongful death lawsuit can give family members closure and comfort, as well as give them the resources they need to move on with their lives. As a surviving relative, you may be able to collect damages for your loved one’s medical bills, end-of-life costs, lost financial benefits, lost guidance and emotional support, and other consequences of an accidental death. Simply fill out our quick online contact form or call 800-362-9329 to speak with a construction injury lawyer at Hofmann & Schweitzer about your legal rights and options.
Can I get workers' compensation for hearing loss on a construction site?
According to The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), hearing loss is one of the most common work-related illnesses among American workers. The good news is that hearing loss is a recognized occupational condition, and those afflicted may qualify for workers’ compensation benefits to cover medical expenses and lost wages. However, since this condition may occur gradually over time, employees may have a difficult time proving that their condition is work-related.
Types of Occupational Hearing Loss Covered by Workers' Compensation
Daily exposure to industrial machinery on a construction site can cause many types of injury, including hearing loss. NIOSH warns that noise levels of 85 decibels or more have the potential to cause hearing damage—and constant exposure to high noise levels can cause irreversible hearing loss.
Hearing loss on a construction site can occur in a number of ways, including:
- Repetitive stress. The most common cause of occupational hearing loss is repetitive exposure in the work environment. Employees in New York are required to wait three months from their last date of employment before they can apply for workers’ compensation for repetitive stress injuries, including occupational hearing loss.
- Sudden trauma. If hearing loss occurred as a result of an accident (such as a blow to the head or near-drowning), the injured employee can apply for workers’ compensation immediately and has two years from the date of the injury to make a claim.
- Toxic chemicals. Some chemicals and solvents on construction sites may be ototoxic, meaning they can damage the structures of the ear canal. Hearing loss in these cases can be immediate or take weeks to develop, so medical evidence is usually necessary to link the condition to the workplace.
- Negligence. Most cases of occupational hearing loss could have been prevented if hearing protection had been provided. New York construction workers may be able to file a work injury lawsuit against a contractor or other third-party who failed to provide proper protective hearing equipment or train employees on hearing loss prevention.
Once you are eligible for workers’ compensation, you should make an appointment with a hearing loss specialist. This doctor will perform a number of tests to determine how much of your hearing ability remains, and discuss the nature of your job, your work environment, and the duties you perform. If the doctor believes that your hearing loss is work-related, he or she will fill out a workers’ compensation form so you can begin the process of filing your claim.
If you are being denied workers’ compensation for hearing loss, our attorneys can examine the facts of your case and get you the benefits you deserve. Contact us online or call us directly at (800) 362-9329 to speak with a construction injury lawyer at Hofmann & Schweitzer today.
Should I see my own doctor after a maritime injury?
Maritime employers will often encourage employees to treat with a company doctor after an injury occurs at sea. However, you have the right to choose whichever doctor you want to treat your injuries—and seeing your own doctor can benefit both your health and your injury case.
Why You Should Choose Your Own Doctor for a Maritime Injury
Your employer can steer you toward a specific doctor in many different ways, such as insisting you see a company physician, recommending certain doctors who specialize in maritime injuries, or threatening not to pay medical bills unless you treat with a physician of the employer’s choice. Unfortunately, doctors who have a relationship with your employer are more likely to operate in the company’s best interests, not yours.
It is vital for you to choose your own physician to treat your maritime injuries because:
- You can get the care you need. Your employer is required to pay for any treatment for your injury that has been recommended by your doctor. This means paying for the costs of diagnostics (such as x-rays or MRIs) as well as prescription medications, assistive devices, and physical rehabilitation. A company doctor may neglect to order certain tests because they could mean higher medical bills for the employer, sacrificing your health for company profits.
- You can return to work at your own pace. Company doctors may give you clearance to return to work before you are ready or before your injury has fully healed, placing you at risk of aggravating the injury or suffering additional complications.
- It’s free. Your employer is required to pay for medical treatment regardless of which doctor you choose. This can be your regular doctor or a specialist with knowledge of your type of injury and the work that you do.
Our maritime injury lawyers are based in New York, but we are proud to represent clients across the country who have suffered an injury or illness at sea. Our attorneys can explain your options at no cost to you, and we do not collect any fees until we get you the compensation you deserve. Fill out our quick online contact form or call (800) 362-9329 to speak with a maritime injury lawyer at Hofmann & Schweitzer as soon as possible.