Shipbuilding and repairs are dangerous undertakings commonly performed in drydocks or while stopped at a port. However, sometimes crews have no choice but to perform vessel repairs mid-voyage, placing Jones Act workers at risk of severe injury.

How Jones Act Workers Suffer Ship Repair Injuries

Worker Repairing a Ship at SeaWhile many ship maintenance and cleaning tasks can be performed on the water, repairs at sea are typically performed on an emergency basis. If something breaks or malfunctions on a voyage, crew members may have to replace defective or damaged parts, repair engines or heavy equipment, or stabilize damage from a crash so the ship can make it safely into port.

Hazards Seamen Face When Performing Ship Repairs at Sea

  • Trips and falls. Falls are an ever-present problem for maritime workers, but the added risk of rough weather and stormy seas only increases the chances that a seaman will be thrown overboard.
  • Fires and explosions. Electricians and plumbers may be needed to upgrade and repair the ship's vital systems. Malfunctions during the process may lead to electric shocks, thermal burns, and fires in confined spaces.
  • Toxic exposure. Workers may be exposed to dangerous chemicals such as asbestos, cleaning agents, welding fumes, paints and solvents, and fuel oils. Prolonged exposure to certain elements can cause lung damage, asphyxiation, hearing loss, or future occupational diseases.
  • Exhaustion. Seamen perform some of the most physically demanding tasks of any workforce. If they work long hours in the heat or cold without adequate rest breaks, they may suffer hypothermia, heat exhaustion, or preventable injuries due to constant stress.
  • Machinery malfunction. Any component of a ship could potentially malfunction due to defects in the installation of the manufacturing process, such as engines, boilers, deck equipment, and rigging. Faulty maintenance or human error can cause extensive damage when operating cranes, winches, and other heavy equipment.
  • Struck-by accidents. From swinging cranes to shifting cargo, seamen are at constant risk of being struck by objects or caught between equipment.
  • Drowning. Divers can suffer injuries when welding below the waterline, including decompression injuries or drowning. Other lives may be lost if compartments are flooded due to negligent maintenance or rushed repairs.
  • Delayed medical care. Accidents at sea are more likely to cause extensive injuries—or even prove fatal—due to a lack of access to emergency medical care on land.

Compensation Programs That Could Pay for a Maritime Injury

  • Jones Act. It’s important to remember that anyone who meets the Jones Act status requirements has the right to collect payment under the statute no matter where their injury occurred. Your job title or position is not as important as whether you spend at least 30% of your time in service of your vessel. If you qualify as a member of the vessel’s crew, you may be owed compensation for your medical costs and lost wages and have the right to sue your employer for negligence.
  • Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA). If you don’t meet the requirements of a Jones Act seaman, be anchored, and the LHWCA may apply to your case instead. Welders, outfitters, electricians, painters, and other professionals who perform maintenance and repair on vessels that are permanently moored or drydocked for repairs are covered under the LHWCA. You could also qualify for benefits under general maritime if you work on or near the water.
  • Third-party claims. In addition to workers’ compensation benefits, you may be able to collect pain and suffering damages by filing a lawsuit against a negligent third party. Ship repairs can involve additional maritime workers with many different employers, making it possible to sue a worker (or their employer) from another company.

We Can Explain Your Options After a Maritime Injury at No Cost to You

If you or someone you know has been injured while repairing a ship at sea, we can help. Call us at 1-800-3-MAY-DAY or fill out our online contact form to begin your no-obligation consultation. You can also learn more about these types of claims in our complimentary guide, Are You a Seaman Injured in a Maritime Accident? Know Your Rights.


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