The commercial fishing industry is one of the most dangerous of all industries for workers in the U.S. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has collected data on job fatalities and commercial fishing consistently ranks at the top of these lists. Among the various types of commercial fishing, crabbing is the riskiest and most likely to cause injuries and even deaths. Crab boat injuries and fatalities are not uncommon, and 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.
In spite of the inherent and natural risk of danger in this line of work, there are measures that can be taken to make the job safer, such as providing safety equipment and training to ensure workers know how to use equipment. When the natural risk of this job is combined with a lack of training or safety equipment, it can spell disaster aboard commercial crabbing vessels. If you have been injured aboard a crab boat, or you have lost a loved one to the job, you should know that you have rights to compensation under federal maritime law.
The Dangers of Crabbing
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 dangerous places for crabbing are locations in the North Pacific and in the Bering Sea around Alaska. The short crabbing season takes place in fall and winter, when waters are particularly rough, dangerous, and cold. Big waves combined with the small size of crabbing vessels means 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. To take advantage of the short daylight hours and the limited fishing season, crab fishermen work fast, hard, and long, and often in the dark. This only adds to the dangers of the job, as workers can easily get fatigued. Fatigue leads to accidents. Bad weather and rough waters are factors that cannot be controlled, and they too often contribute to accidents, injuries, and deaths in the crabbing industry.
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. Crab boat injuries and fatalities can be caused by the cramped conditions. Crab boats are smaller than many other 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 deck. The huge crab pots used to catch crab 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 properly trained.
Because crabbers have a limited season, they have to work long hours every day on the job. These seamen go out on a vessel for weeks or more, and work from dawn to dusk and beyond. They do physically demanding work and get fatigued easily. This is yet another factor that makes the job so dangerous. When fishermen are overworked they are more likely to make the kinds of mistakes that cause accidents.
Crab Boat Injuries
With all of the factors considered it is no wonder that crab boat injuries are common and that crab fishing is such a dangerous job. 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 a number of ways. They may end up with broken bones, sprains, fractures, head injuries, hypothermia and frostbite, vision and hearing loss, back injuries, and even amputations. Falls overboard are among the most dangerous of accidents. A fisherman that goes overboard in rough waters may be difficult to rescue, and if no one notices until it is too late, he may drown. It happens all too often in the crabbing industry.
If you have been injured in any way while working as a commercial crab fisherman, you have the right to receive compensation. Federal maritime law guarantees you maintenance and cure, or medical care as well as living expenses for as long as you have to remain off the job. It also guarantees you further compensation if you qualify as a seaman and you can prove that your employer’s negligence played even a small role in your accident. Your dependent loved ones are also entitled to compensation if you die on the job.
The law covering negligence in seamen’s accidents is the Jones Act. Negligence may occur in a number of forms in crab boat injuries. If your employer did not have all workers adequately trained to work on the vessel, did not keep equipment maintained, or did not provide necessary safety equipment and safety and rescue training, then negligence may be proven to have played a part in your injury. Failing to provide for workers to have enough breaks during long shifts can also be considered negligence if fatigue leads to an accident or if too much exposure to cold air and wind causes hypothermia or frostbite.
Crab Boat Fatalities
Crab boat injuries are not the only dangers you may face while working in the commercial crabbing industry. Fatalities are not uncommon aboard crab boats. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the highest rate of fatalities occurring in commercial fishing were in shellfish work, which includes crabbing. Most recorded fatalities resulted from falls overboard during severe weather. Those falls were caused by instability of the vessel, collisions, equipment and fishing gear snagging and pulling someone overboard, slips and falls on deck, or the vessel being hit by a large wave. Overboard deaths are from drowning or hypothermia.
If you are the loved one of a crab fisherman who died on the job, you can 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 lost wages, funeral costs, and the less tangible cost of pain and suffering. If your loved one worked in Alaska, you may 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, however, if all other avenues for compensation have been exhausted.
Legal Assistance for Crab Boat Injuries and Fatalities
Crabbing may be a lucrative job, but it is fraught with danger. If you take the risk every day to do this job and to get a decent salary for your family, there is a very real chance you will get injured or even killed. Maritime laws are in place for just this reason. You can expect to get compensation, even if your employer is trying to deny your right to that money. The law allows you to file a claim and force your employer or their insurance company to pay what you are owed.
Navigating federal maritime law and facing denials of compensation from an employer or insurer can be confusing and frustrating. If you find yourself in this difficult situation, let an experienced maritime lawyer help you figure out which laws apply to you. This lawyer can also work with you and represent you to fight the insurance companies denying you compensation. A lawyer can help you file claims and represent you in court if needed. With the right guidance and experience, you stand the best chance of getting the money you are owed to the full extent that the law allows.