Commercial fishing, especially crab fishing, is one of the most dangerous industries for workers in the U.S. Injuries on crab boats are common and often severe or even fatal. If you have been injured aboard a crab boat or lost a loved one to the job, know that you have rights to compensation under federal maritime law.
The Dangers of Crabbing
The Bureau of Labor Statistics collects data on job fatalities. Commercial fishing consistently ranks at the top of these lists. Among the various types of commercial fishing, crabbing is one of the riskiest and most likely to cause injuries and even deaths.
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Crab boat injuries and fatalities are not uncommon. While the work can be lucrative, commercial fishermen must be willing to risk life and limb. Popular reality television shows even take advantage of the dangerous nature of this work to entertain viewers.
Crab fishing is dangerous anywhere it is done, but most crabbing requires going out to remote places and facing rough waters and bad weather. Some of the most hazardous crabbing areas are in the North Pacific and the Bering Sea around Alaska.
There are many factors that make crab fishing such a dangerous job:
- Rough Weather and Seas. The short crabbing season occurs in fall and winter when waters are particularly rough, dangerous, and cold. Big waves combined with the small size of crabbing vessels mean that capsizing and falls overboard are valid concerns for workers. In addition to rough seas, the weather is dangerously cold and windy, with poor visibility.
- Long Working Hours. Crab fishermen work fast, hard, long, and often in the dark to take advantage of the short daylight hours and the limited fishing season. This only adds to the dangers of the job, as workers can easily get fatigued. Fatigue leads to accidents.
- Equipment. In addition to the conditions in the bleak locations in which crabbing is done, the boats and equipment used in crab fishing also add to the risk of injury and death for workers.
- Tight Workspaces. The cramped conditions can cause crab boat injuries and fatalities. Crab boats are smaller than many commercial fishing boats, and the tight spaces make accidents and falls overboard more likely. The equipment used in crab fishing is big and heavy and takes up a lot of space on the deck.
- Crab Pots. The huge crab pots used to catch crabs are lowered and lifted by hydraulic lifts and may weigh up to 800 pounds. Working with them can be hazardous, especially if fishermen are not adequately trained.
Examples of Crab Boat Injuries
With all the factors considered, it is no wonder that crab boat injuries are common and that crab fishing is dangerous. Slick and crowded decks, heavy equipment, long working hours in bad weather, rough waters, and freezing temperatures all conspire to make accidents happen, whether or not negligence plays a part.
Crab fishermen may be injured in several ways:
- Broken bones
- Sprains and strains
- Head injuries
- Hypothermia and frostbite
- Vision and hearing loss
- Back injuries
Falls overboard are among the most dangerous crabbing accidents. A fisherman that goes overboard in rough waters may be difficult to rescue, and they may drown if no one notices until it is too late. It happens all too often in the crabbing industry.
Crab Boat Fatalities
Crab boat injuries are not the only risks workers face while working in the commercial crabbing industry. Fatalities are all too common aboard crab boats.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that the highest fatalities in commercial fishing were in shellfish work, including crabbing.
Most recorded fatalities resulted from falls overboard during severe weather. Those falls were caused by:
- Instability of the vessel
- Equipment accidents
- Fishing gear snagging and pulling someone overboard
- Slips and falls on deck
- The vessel being hit by a large wave.
Overboard deaths are from drowning or hypothermia.
Seeking Compensation Crab Boat Injuries and Fatalities
Crabbing may be a lucrative job, but it is fraught with danger. If you take the daily risk to do this job and get a decent salary for your family, there is a real chance you will get injured or even killed. Maritime laws are in place for just this reason.
The law allows you to file a claim and force your employer or their insurance company to pay what you are owed. You can expect to get compensation, even if your employer is trying to deny your right to that money.
The law covering negligence in seamen’s accidents is the Jones Act. This law applies if you are a seaman according to its definition. The Jones Act covers incidents that involve negligence.
Negligence may occur in several forms in crab boat injuries if your employer did not:
- Have all workers adequately trained to work on the vessel
- Keep equipment maintained
- Provide necessary safety equipment and safety and rescue training
- Give workers enough breaks during long shifts
- Protect workers from exposure to cold air and wind that causes hypothermia or frostbite
If you are the loved one of a crab fisherman who died on the job, you can also seek damages through the Jones Act. The law provides for compensation for dependents, such as spouses and children. Compensation is provided for lost wages, future wages, funeral costs, and the less tangible cost of pain and suffering.
If your loved one worked in Alaska, you might also be eligible for compensation through the Alaska Fishermen’s Fund. This fund has some strict requirements that need to be met and is only to be used if all other avenues for compensation have been exhausted.
Working with a Maritime Lawyer
Navigating federal maritime law and facing denials of compensation from an employer or insurer can be confusing and frustrating. If you are in this challenging situation, let an experienced maritime lawyer help you determine which laws apply to you.
This lawyer can work with and represent you to fight the insurance companies denying you compensation. A lawyer can help you file claims and represent you in court. With the proper guidance and experience, you stand the best chance of getting the money you are owed to the full extent the law allows.