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February 20th, 2011

California Shipyard Worker Injured in Maritime Accident Involving Falling Beam

A shipyard worker at the Chula Vista harbor in California was seriously injured in a maritime accident over the weekend. According to news reports, the man was part of a team that was working on disassembling a 124-foot long barge. Apparently, the accident occurred when a beam, that the man believed was still attached to the barge, fell on the man. He suffered serious facial and head injuries, including severe damage to his trachea. He was rushed to the hospital, where doctors induced a medical coma.

This might seem like a freak accident to most, but not to maritime attorneys, familiar with the threat from falling debris on the worksite. Many industrial worksites involve a risk from falling or flying debris, and a maritime environment is no different. Workers will be struck by falling objects, or by falling loads from forklift or cranes. Very often, these accidents can be prevented if workers are properly trained to identify hazards, and take precautions to prevent injuries. Besides, maritime accidents involving falling or flying debris can also be prevented if forklift and crane operators are trained to avoid pedestrian workers. Other times, restricted supervision may be to blame. There is limited information about this particular California accident, so it’s hard to point at the kind of safety precautions that were neglected.

Shipyard workers may be compensated under the provisions of the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act. Under the LHWCA, injury compensation may be calculated based on the worker’s average weekly wage. A worker with a higher average weekly wage may be eligible for a higher compensation. These workers are not eligible for as many benefits as the Jones Act provides to a Jones Act seaman. In fact, the LHWCA often includes those workers who do not qualify as Jones Act seamen.  However, the distinction between longshoremen, harbor workers, and seamen can be hard to decipher.  Furthermore, a longshore worker may have third party claims against the vessel owner or operator or another responsible party.  You should consult with an experienced longshore lawyer as soon as possible after your accident to determine your rights under maritime law.

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