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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  • Could unsafe stairs or ladders qualify as unseaworthiness?

    top NYC maritime attorneysLadders, steps, and gangways cause countless injuries and deaths on the water every year. Since these access points are vital to the operation of a ship, any defective ladders or stairways could make the vessel unseaworthy.

    Global Safety Standards for Stairs and Ladders on Vessels

    The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has created a number of safety standards for ladders and steps on a variety of vessels. The IMO specifies guidelines for:

    • Portable ladders. Free-standing portable ladders must not be over 5 meters long, built to be adequate and strong enough for the job, and used at an angle between 60 and 75 degrees from horizontal.
    • Hatches and openings. Ladders that provide access to elevated passageways or vertical openings from the vessel’s bottom must have easily accessible passageways, ladders, or treads. Treads must have lateral support for feet, and permanent ladders must be inclined at an angle of less than 70 degrees to prevent falls.
    • Signage and markings. All ladders and gangways must be clearly marked with the maximum safe loading limit and maximum permitted angle of use. The safe loading limit warning should include both the total of persons the equipment can accommodate and the total maximum weight.
    • Construction. Ladders, steps, and gangways must be made from sound materials with adequate strength to support crew members (such as steel or similar compounds). Ladders and handrails must be secured to decks and superstructures. Any flights of ladders must not be longer than 9 meters in length, and include resting platforms to prevent injury.
    • Caution. Seamen must be trained to use all means of access (such ladders and steps), with care. This includes crew safety training to warn against exceeding weight limits of ladders and gangways or using unsafe means of access.
    • Maintenance. All access equipment must be free from any noticeable defects, properly maintained, and inspected regularly. Ladders, steps, and other means of access must not be painted in a way that hides cracks, corrosion, or other defects.

    A maritime employer who did not follow these guidelines or take action to replace a defective ladder could be found negligent. If you or someone you love has been hurt at sea, the maritime injury attorneys at Hofmann & Schweitzer can explain your next steps and what you are owed under the law. Call 1-800-3-MAY-DAY today to or download your complimentary copy of Are You a Seaman Injured in a Maritime Accident? Know Your Rights.

     

  • Why are plate freezers so hazardous for commercial fishermen?

    Frozen Fish on a Fishing Vessel

    Fishermen face a wide range of hazards at sea, including the machinery used to haul and store the day’s catch. In fact, equipment accidents are a common cause of injuries to commercial fishermen, particularly the large industrial freezers found on trawlers and factory ships.

    The Dangers of Working Around Plate Freezers

    Like most maritime machinery accidents, an employer’s negligence is often to blame when a worker suffers an injury. Employees who were not properly trained to use plate freezers safely or who were forced to work with broken or outdated freezers could have an unseaworthiness claim against the shipowner.

    There are many risks associated with the use of plate freezers, including:

    • Finger and hand injuries. In order to keep harvested seafood fresh, it is frozen at extremely low temperatures (up to 40 degrees below zero). If workers are not issued adequate gloves or protective gear, they can suffer freezer burn or frostbite that causes the loss of a digit.
    • Back injuries. The daily loading and unloading of blocks of frozen fish can take a toll on workers’ backs. Years of lifting, turning, or twisting movements can cause irreparable damage to the bones and tissues in the spine, leading to early retirement or potential long-term disability.
    • Struck-by accidents. If the vessel is caught in a storm, a metallic pan full of frozen fish may be flung from the freezer unit without warning. As these pans can weigh over 25 pounds, the damage it causes when it hits a crew member can be deadly.
    • Suffocation. Plate freezers require a great deal of refrigerants to keep products cool, which can be deadly if released into an enclosed space. Poor maintenance of refrigeration units can case hazardous chemicals to leak into work areas, resulting in throat and lung injuries or deaths by suffocation.

    Contact Top NYC Maritime Injury Attorneys Today

    If you or someone you love has been hurt at sea, the maritime injury attorneys at Hofmann & Schweitzer can determine who may be liable for the accident and what you are owed under the law. Call 1-800-3-MAY-DAY today or fill out our online contact form. You can also download a complimentary copy of Are You a Seaman Injured in a Maritime Accident? Know Your Rights.

     

  • Do fish processing equipment accidents qualify as a maritime injury?

    top nyc maritime attorneysThe fishing industry requires all kinds of workers to remain afloat, from the fishermen who bring in the catch to the packers who prepare the stock for delivery. If you prepare fish for the freezing and packing process on a trawler or fish processing vessel, your injury may qualify you for benefits under the Jones Act.

    Common Types of Fish Processing Injuries

    Many fishermen, packers, and deckhands suffer serious injuries every year as a result of vessel hazards and unsafe working conditions. An injury at sea is likely to be fatal, but those who survive often have permanent disabilities that significantly limit their ability to earn a living.

    The most common injuries among fishermen and workers who process fish include:

    • Back and neck injuries. Long hours lifting heavy seafood boxes can cause irreparable damage to the spine, while the repetitive motions of bending and leaning over fish to be cleaned can put undue stress on the neck. As a result, commercial fishermen may suffer herniated discs, pinched nerves, and other painful back and neck conditions.
    • Lacerations and puncture wounds. The process of slicing, skinning, and gutting fish often causes cuts or penetrating wounds from blades, bones, and fish spines. A minor laceration on the hand can result in an infection caused by exposure to bacteria or parasites on the fish.
    • Fractures. Bone fractures in the arms and legs are especially common on fish processing vessels due to falls on slippery decks, conveyor belt accidents, struck-by injuries, and crush injuries.
    • Amputations. Vessels that process fish and other seafood products are equipped with heavy machinery, including augers, presses, bait choppers, and automatic deheaders to remove fish heads and tails. An overworked employee may accidentally lose a finger or even a hand due to automatic cutting tools.

    If you or someone you love has been hurt at sea, the maritime injury attorneys at Hofmann & Schweitzer can determine who may be liable for the accident and what you are owed under the law. Call 1-800-3-MAY-DAY today or download your complimentary copy of Are You a Seaman Injured in a Maritime Accident? Know Your Rights.

     

  • Who is responsible for distraction-related maritime accidents?

    Maritime Workers on Ship DeckDistractions aren’t just a problem on the road, they are a major peril for employees who work on or near water. In a car, it is only the driver who could cause an accident—on a vessel, any crew member’s inattention can cause serious or fatal injuries. When distractions combine with the dangers of open water and heavy machinery, a maritime worker may suffer amputation, traumatic brain injury, lacerations, spinal damage, or hypothermia.

    Liability for Maritime Accidents Caused by Distraction

    Maritime workers have a duty to mitigate distractions while on duty, such as using their smartphones to talk or text or listening to loud music. On the other hand, vessel owners may be responsible if they did not make efforts to reduce distractions from noisy machinery, outdated systems, confusing instructions, or unseaworthy conditions aboard the ship.

    Distraction-related accidents can occur anywhere at any time, including:

    • Open water. There are many hazards on open water, including floating debris, sandbars, and the risk of falling overboard. If a crew member is more interested in checking his emails or social media accounts, he may fail to notice when a coworker falls overboard, increasing the time it takes to mount a rescue.
    • Shipping lanes. An accident in a crowded body of water can involve multiple vessels and injuries, and may be caused by a distracted crew member on another ship.
    • Docks and harbors. Pilots and navigators must pay close attention to their duties when bringing ships in and out of port to avoid dock collisions and grounding. Ship owners and operators should have strict policies in place prohibiting the use of electronic devices during potentially dangerous maneuvers.

    If you or someone you love has been hurt at sea, the maritime injury attorneys at Hofmann & Schweitzer can determine who may be liable for the accident and what you are owed under the law. Call 1-800-3-MAY-DAY today to or download your complimentary copy of Are You a Seaman Injured in a Maritime Accident? Know Your Rights.

     

  • What are the most common causes of electrical maritime injuries?

    Maritime Electrical Workers Working on a Ship's ElectricalElectrical systems are crucial to the safe and profitable operation of all vessels in the maritime industry. A ship is essentially a floating city, and electricity is needed to run everything from lights and navigation systems to heavy equipment such as winches, cranes, and conveyor belts. Unfortunately, a fault in any one of these systems could cause severe or even fatal electrical maritime injuries.

    Maritime Workers Can Suffer a Wide Range of Electrical Injuries

    Electrical hazards are generally a result of a live wire or a short circuit. Workers can suffer contact with live electrical parts many different ways, such as malfunctioning equipment, lack of fencing or posted warnings, inadequate repair or maintenance, or untrained workers attempting to fix electrical issues.

    Without proper safety precautions, seamen and harbor workers may suffer:

    • Fire injuries. Small sparks can quickly lead to open flames, and ship fires must be put out quickly in order to avoid a tragedy. Even a contained fire can lead to smoke inhalation injuries, burns, eye injuries, scarring, or falls overboard.
    • Electric shocks. Shocks occur when there is an unexpected flow of electricity through the human body, such as a saw blade striking an electric cable or brushing against frayed wiring or live circuit boards. When the voltage is extremely high, workers may suffer death by electric shock (electrocution).
    • Fall injuries. A sudden electric shock from live wires, circuit boards, or cables can propel a victim several feet, leading to fall injuries such as head trauma, broken bones, or drowning.
    • Collisions. If lights and navigation systems fail, a vessel may be invisible to other ships while sailing at night. The vessel may accidentally drift into docks, harbors, or other ships, especially if the power outage has affected radio and wireless communication systems.
    • Punctures and struck-by injuries. Defective electrical tools may suddenly stop and restart, causing an unintentional discharge from a nail or staple gun. A malfunctioning forklift may have its lights fail or engine stall, rolling over nearby workers.

    If you or someone you love has been hurt at sea, the maritime injury attorneys at Hofmann & Schweitzer can determine who may be liable for the accident and what you are owed under the law. Call 1-800-3-MAY-DAY today to or download your complimentary copy of Are You a Seaman Injured in a Maritime Accident? Know Your Rights.

     

  • Can I file a Jones Act claim if my vessel did not have adequate medical equipment?

    Injured Maritime Worker With a Neck Brace on a StretcherIf a crew member becomes seriously ill or suffers an injury aboard a vessel, the employer has a duty to seek reasonable medical care. Unfortunately, many seamen suffer serious injury or death each year because an employer failed to provide them with necessary medical treatment.

    Failure to Provide Medical Care on a Vessel May Be a Form of Negligence

    In general maritime injury cases, employers and shipowners can be held liable if they fail to ensure a safe workplace at sea. While ship operators may not be able to predict or prevent all injuries, they are held to certain standards about how injured and ill crewmen should be treated.

    Crew members may be able to seek compensation from an employer or shipowner who did not provide:

    • Adequate medical supplies. A first aid kit may not be enough to treat the kinds of injuries that happen at sea. All vessels should be equipped with the types of medical supplies needed to address common emergencies on the water.
    • Sufficient emergency response training. Vessels can be miles from the nearest healthcare facility, and the crew must be prepared and trained to act when a seaman suffers a medical emergency. Operators of small and large vessels should ensure that the crew is properly trained in emergency first aid procedures, including when to evacuate the injured crew member for further treatment.
    • Onboard medical personnel. Larger ships may be required to carry a medic, nurse, or other licensed medical practitioner to attend to onboard injuries. These professionals may be held liable if they misdiagnose a condition or take actions that aggravate or worsen a seaman’s health.
    • Emergency transportation to shore. In severe cases, injured crewmen should be evacuated to a hospital for immediate medical intervention. The ship’s medic may be liable if he or she does not consult with the Coast Guard or medical consultants on shore or causes a delay in further medical care.

    If you or someone you love has been injured at sea, the maritime attorneys at Hofmann & Schweitzer can determine who may be liable for the accident and what you are owed under the law. Call 1-800-3-MAY-DAY today to or download your complimentary copy of Are You a Seaman Injured in a Maritime Accident? Know Your Rights.

     

  • Can I file a Jones Act claim if I was assaulted on my vessel?

    Maritime Assault Screen on a Laptop With a GavelJones Act seamen face numerous hazards aboard their vessels, and should not have to face the added danger of physical or sexual assault. Unfortunately, many maritime workers will suffer these kinds of attacks at the hands of their fellow crew members, forcing them to endure painful trauma that could last the rest of their lives.

    Employer Negligence in Jones Act Claims for Assault

    The consequences of physical and sexual assaults on a vessel can be devastating. A victim may be left with disfiguring scars, suffer permanent disability, or even killed due to an aggressive act. Even if the victim’s physical injuries heal with time, the psychological trauma of the incident may prevent the victim from returning to work, cutting short a lucrative career in the maritime industry.

    In general maritime law and Jones Act cases, an employer can be held liable for failure to ensure a safe workplace at sea. As a result, crew members on fishing boats, cruise ships, and other vessels may be able to seek compensation from an employer or shipowner as well as the person who assaulted them after a:

    • Fistfight. Long hours, intoxication, and personality conflicts on working vessels can all increase the odds that an altercation will turn violent. Employers should have strict policies involving alcohol and drug use, ensure that workers get proper rest, and have training and disciplinary programs to discourage fighting on vessels.
    • Armed attack. Employers may share liability for crew member stabbings, shootings, or injury from other weapons if the employer knew or should have known that the assailant had weapons aboard the ship.
    • Sexual assault. If a fellow crew member is charged with criminal sexual assault, the employer may share responsibility due to negligent hiring practices (such as hiring someone with a history of violent behavior).

    If you or someone you love suffered injuries in a physical altercation at sea, the maritime attorneys at Hofmann & Schweitzer can determine who may be liable for your accident and what you are owed under the law. Call 1-800-3-MAY-DAY today to or download your complimentary copy of Are You a Seaman Injured in a Maritime Accident? Know Your Rights.

     

  • Can families file a lawsuit if a maritime worker drowned?

    Caution Drowning SignDespite the many safety advances and lifesaving precautions in the maritime industry, drowning remains a high risk for seamen and harbor workers. Fatal drowning accidents can happen while a vessel is at sea, when the vessel is approaching a harbor, or even when vessels are tied to a dock. While the inciting incidents in each case may vary, the majority of maritime workers who drown are the victims of someone else’s negligence.

    Common Reasons for Drowning Incidents in the Maritime Industry

    Drowning incidents can occur any time seamen enter the water, but are most likely to happen after an unwitnessed or unprotected fall overboard. If a loved one was killed after falling off of his or her vessel, family members should speak with a maritime injury attorney to determine whether the incident was caused by:

    • Lack of PPE. Employers are required to provide life vests to all crew members working on deck, ensure that flotation devices are worn, and replace any damaged or worn-out life-preserving equipment on vessels.
    • Training or staffing deficits. All vessels should be staffed with an adequate number of crew members. Understaffing can cause fatigue and exhaustion among workers, increasing the odds of an accident. Employers should also implement “buddy system” techniques to ensure that employees work in pairs during potentially dangerous maneuvers, decreasing the amount of time a person would spend in the water if he or she fell overboard. In addition, employers have a duty to ensure that all seamen have received training both on their job duties and on proper safety and resume measures.
    • Unseaworthiness. Vessel defects are a primary cause of slip or trip accidents that can cause a seaman to fall overboard. Owners may be held liable if damaged ladders, faulty lifeboats, slippery decks, or other unsafe equipment rendered the vessel unseaworthy.

    If someone you love was killed at sea, the maritime attorneys at Hofmann & Schweitzer can determine who may be held liable and what you are owed under the law. Call 1-800-3-MAY-DAY today to or download your complimentary copy of Are You a Seaman Injured in a Maritime Accident? Know Your Rights.

     

  • Does the Jones Act cover falls overboard?

    Side Railing on a Large BoatFalls overboard are not only one of the most common kinds of injuries at sea, and they are also the most deadly. When these accidents happen, victims can claim benefits under the Jones Act for the costs of their injuries and lost wages, and may also pursue compensation for negligence and unseaworthiness.

    Maritime Injuries Sustained in Falls Overboard

    Crew members working on all types of vessels have a duty to follow rescue protocol when a seaman or passenger goes overboard. Once a person has fallen into the water, the ship must use all reasonable means available to retrieve him or her as long as the person could reasonably be found alive.

    If crews are not properly trained or do not witness the fall, a seaman can suffer severe injuries such as:

    • Hypothermia. Depending on the temperature of the water and length of time before rescue, a seaman’s body temperature can fall drastically, affecting his or her ability to swim or even remain afloat.
    • Coma. A person who has been rescued from the water should receive adequate first aid to bring up his or her body temperature safely. If heat is not applied quickly, the person’s heart and brain may slow down considerably, resulting in a coma. If heat is applied to the extremities rather than the torso, chilled blood could rush into the victim’s heart, resulting in cardiac arrest.
    • Drowning. Seaman who are not provided with a personal flotation device (PFD) while working on deck are much more likely to drown after falling into the water. Family members should always investigate the wrongful death of a maritime worker to see if the accident could have been prevented.

    If you or someone you love suffered an overboard incident, the maritime attorneys at Hofmann & Schweitzer can determine who may be liable for your accident and what you are owed under the law. Call 1-800-3-MAY-DAY today to or download your complimentary copy of Are You a Seaman Injured in a Maritime Accident? Know Your Rights.

     

  • What should I expect if I file a Jones Act case?

    Injured Worker Looking at Information on the Computer After a Maritime InjuryIf you were injured while working at sea, you are likely owed benefits under the Jones Act, Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, or general maritime law. While some employers may pay for medical benefits and lost wages without much resistance, you should always be prepared for a fight as you move forward.

    What Happens After You File a Maritime Injury Case Under the Jones Act

    Most maritime employers and their insurance companies will try to pay you as little as possible for your injuries. It is always a good idea to speak with an experienced maritime injury attorney to advise you on your claim and ensure you get what you deserve. Your lawyer can help with the filing of the claim, including determining whether you qualify for Jones Act seaman status or could pursue a negligence claim in addition to collecting benefits.

    Once your claim is filed, your attorney can prepare you for what it will be like as your case progresses, including:

    • Ensuring you continue your medical treatment. You should continue your appointments with your chosen doctor, and follow your physician’s recommended treatment plan even if your benefits claim is still pending.
    • Submitting proper documentation. You will need to keep accurate and thorough records, including copies of forms you submit or sign, your medical records, your accident report, correspondence from your employer, pictures from the accident, a list of witnesses, and a diary of your injuries.
    • Fending off insurance representatives. You may be contacted regularly by insurance agents offering you quick settlements or requesting recorded statements. These are solely attempting to gather evidence against you, and should be reported to your attorney immediately.

    If you are a maritime worker who has been hurt on the job, our maritime accident attorneys can determine who may be liable for your accident and what you are owed under the law. Call 1-800-3-MAY-DAY today to speak with a maritime injury lawyer at Hofmann & Schweitzer or download your complimentary copy of Are You a Seaman Injured in a Maritime Accident? Know Your Rights.