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Ports and sea terminals are some of the world's busiest places, and also the most dangerous for those who make their living on the water. Due to the number of maritime employees who work with bulky cargo containers and heavy lifting equipment, the odds of suffering an injury while loading or unloading cargo ships can be staggering.

The Many Dangers of Cranes on Ports and Vessels

A recent report from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) states that one crane will tip over with every 10,000 hours of crane use nationwide. The majority of the incidents are caused by some form of operator error.

Cranes are essential for loading and unloading cargo efficiently. A crane may be mounted on container ships and freighters, installed on terminals, or moved from one dock to another. Unfortunately, their continual use increases the risk of a mechanical breakdown—especially if they are not inspected and repaired regularly. The stress of lifting several tons every day can wear down the crane's bearings, cause corrosion, and weaken the crane's structural integrity until an injury is only a matter of time.

Cargo accidents may result in injury or death by:

  • Struck-by injuries. Failure to properly transport between land and vessel can result in rigging injuries, while improperly securing heavy loads on decks and inside cargo holds can cause loose cargo to fall on the heads and backs of workers.
  • Falls. Crew members may fall from the top of a shipping container, or fall overboard after being struck by loose cargo or the swinging arm of a crane.
  • Capsizing. If the load on a cargo ship is not balanced properly, the weight may shift when hit by strong waves. Even a minor squall can trigger an unbalanced vessel to capsize, leaving the crew and ship lost at sea.
  • Toxicity. Improper handling of hazardous materials can cause tanks or containers to split, contaminating the area and putting employees at risk of occupational illness.
  • Compression. If a crane buckles or a load drops unexpectedly, workers caught beneath may be crushed under the weight. Even if loaded properly, the failure to secure cargo is stored in appropriate durable containers can result in a worker's arm, leg, or foot becoming trapped as items break free.

Determining the Cause of a Maritime Cargo Accident

While it will take a skilled maritime lawyer to determine the exact cause of your injury, the vast majority of cargo accidents are caused by:

  • Operator error. Loading and unloading of this magnitude should only be done by skilled professionals. Faulty crane operation, such as failing to extend outriggers before swinging a boom or continuing operations after a safety warning, is one of the most common incidents that lead to cargo injuries.
  • Lax maintenance. Shipowners and employers have a duty to ensure their workers have as safe a work environment as possible. This means scheduling regular checks on cranes and containers, repairing worn or defective parts, and performing adequate maintenance to stop mechanical failures before they occur.
  • Lack of training. Proper safety training is key to preventing injuries on ships and shore. Workers should be informed on how to use the equipment and techniques necessary for loading, including crane lift capacity limits and scouting the site for power lines and other hazards.

If seamen or longshore workers are injured in cargo accidents caused by negligence, they are eligible for compensation through federal and general maritime laws. If the vessel was unseaworthy, a seamen may be able to collect damages for medical expenses, lost wages, and future disability.

If you have been involved in a maritime accident, we can perform a full investigation to determine who was at fault. Simply fill out our quick online contact form or call (800) 362-9329 to speak with a lawyer at Hofmann & Schweitzer today, or read through our FREE brochure, Hurt in a Construction Accident? You're Not Alone.


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