Even after suffering a serious maritime accident, many Jones Act seamen are eager to return to work on the water. Unfortunately, many will be robbed of their ability to earn a living due to the long-term complications of their injuries. Workers who have suffered partial or total paralysis may need vocational retraining to pursue a new career—or they may be unable to work at all.
Types and Degrees of Paralysis in Maritime Workers
Paralysis is the loss of strength or control in one or more parts of the body. Depending on the severity and location of the injury, paralysis may affect one limb, both arms, both legs, one side of the body, or the entire body. Paralysis may be a temporary effect of an injury that improves with rest and physical therapy, or it may be a permanent condition.
Some common causes of paralysis in the maritime industry include:
- Spinal cord damage. Spinal cord injuries are common causes of debilitating paralysis, such as loss of function in both arms and both legs (quadriplegia) or inability to control any bodily movements from the neck down.
- Crush injuries. Seamen who are caught in equipment or machinery may lose feeling in both legs (paraplegia) and potentially part of the abdomen. An incomplete injury to the spinal cord could also result in spastic paralysis, or erratic muscle spasms that make movements erratic or walking impossible.
- Assault. An intentional attack or fight between crew members may result in a fall onto a hard surface or being struck on the back or neck with a heavy object.
- Nerve damage. Repetitive motions such as bending, pulling, twisting, or kneeling can cause the hands or feet to go numb due to nerve compression. This paralysis may affect just one part of the body (monoplegia) or affect the same muscle group on both sides of the body (diplegia). The loss of feeling may take days or weeks to subside, or the feeling may not come back at all.
- Strokes. Heavy lifting and stressful conditions may cause a worker to suffer a stroke, resulting in paralysis down one side of the body (hemiplegia). Minor strokes may not cause total paralysis, but extreme muscle weakness that makes it difficult to control the affected limbs (known as flaccid paralysis).
Jones Act Workers Are Owed Benefits for Paralysis
While there is no cure for paralysis, there are ways employers and shipowners can reduce the possibility of long-term damage after an injury. For example, employers have a duty to provide:
- Emergency treatment. There’s no way to reverse damage to the spinal cord, but immediate intervention can help preserve remaining function and prevent further damage. Medical personnel should stabilize the body, prevent shock, and get the injured seaman to a medical facility immediately for emergency treatment.
- Cure. Injured seamen may need several surgeries and extended periods of immobility to allow their injuries to heal. Once the injury has reached maximum medical improvement, the surgeon may categorize the paralysis by the degree of loss of function and explain the likely outcomes to the patient.
- Rehabilitation. If the surgeon believes that physical therapy could restore some lost function, the patient may benefit from months or years of ongoing rehabilitation. Patients may also need speech therapy or mental health counseling to adjust to life with their new limitations.
- Assistive devices. Patients may require mobility aids (such as motorized wheelchairs), and other technology or equipment that makes it easier to move and perform daily activities.
- Job retraining. Seamen with partial or permanent paralysis may be unable to return to work or earn the same income that they did before the accident. Under the Jones Act, workers can receive occupational therapy and disability payments to make up for their lost wages.
If you suffered paralysis from a maritime injury, you may be entitled to compensation for your medical care, ongoing rehabilitation, and lost wages. The maritime injury attorneys at Hofmann & Schweitzer can listen to your story, outline your options, and explain your next steps at no cost to you.
Call us at 1-800-3-MAY-DAY or fill out our online contact form today to set up your no-obligation consultation. To learn more about these types of claims, start reading your complimentary copy of our guide, Are You a Seaman Injured in a Maritime Accident? Know Your Rights.