Rough Waters Out at SeaBad weather is a constant peril for those who work on or near water. Thunderstorms, high winds, hurricanes, and unseasonable temperatures can cause injuries ranging from heat stroke to drowning—and can even result in the total loss of the vessel. While shipowners and employers cannot control the weather, they can control their reactions and responses to changing weather conditions.

Victims of weather-related maritime accidents can collect Jones Act benefits and pursue third-party lawsuits to cover the full costs of an injury. However, they will have to navigate a complicated set of laws in order to pursue compensation. Only an experienced New York maritime attorney will have the knowledge it takes to get you all that you are entitled to under the law.

Employers and Shipowners May Deny Liability for “Acts of God”

As you may imagine, employers and shipowners are not likely to accept responsibility for an injury caused by the weather. Maritime law does provide some restrictions on these claims if the injury results from an “Act of God”—an unexpected and extraordinary event such as a hurricane. However, not all major storms, or even sudden squalls, will qualify as Acts of God. In many cases, there is something a captain or shipowner could have done to prevent injuries, even in extreme weather conditions.

For example, an employer may be held liable for weather-related injuries if the incident involved:

  • Failure to detect poor weather. A maritime employer may claim that a storm was unexpected or unavoidable, but that is not often the case. Captains and bridge crews have a duty to listen to forecasts, monitor changing weather patterns, and act on any warnings or information provided.
  • Failure to warn of potential bad weather. Any possibility of hazardous weather should be announced to the crew with as much time as possible to secure loose objects and get to safety. Without proper warning, a crew member could fall overboard in steep waves or be blown into heavy equipment by sudden high winds.
  • Failure to take evasive actions. When severe weather is anticipated, crews and captains should make every effort to avoid the area or find safe harbor to wait out the storm. The employer may be liable if the crew is ordered to stay on course despite inclement weather, or to go through the storm in order to save sailing time.
  • Failure to take reasonable safety precautions. If storms are forecast, crews should make every effort to tie down any loose objects (such as lines and nets) that could cause an injury. If the storm is coming quickly, crews should immediately stop work and stay below until the threat has passed.
  • Inadequate knowledge or training. Hurricanes and squalls at sea are common causes of weather-related ship accidents, and can occur several times in each season. Even if hurricanes pass the ship by, they can still cause rogue waves over 50 feet high. A trained captain should know the dangers and procedures of each type of hazardous weather. If not, the employer may be guilty of hiring negligence or improper training.
  • Failure to respond adequately to injuries. Vessels must have adequate medical supplies onboard to care for injured workers, and crew members must react to any injuries on board with reasonable care and attention.
  • Unseaworthiness. A storm can make dangerous conditions on a vessel into deadly hazards. Improperly maintaining hand rails can cause slips and falls, loose ladder bolts can cause entanglement and broken bones, and a lack of regular inspections on PPE and signaling equipment can cause hypothermia and drowning before rescue crews arrive.

If you have been involved in a maritime accident, our Jones Act injury attorneys 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
Connect with me
Focused on personal injury, with an emphasis on maritime, railroad and construction worker tort claims.