Although working in the maritime industry is inherently risky and comes with many potential hazards, maritime workers are entitled to conditions that are as safe as possible. One of the many risks that these workers face on a daily basis is working with large, heavy, complicated machinery and equipment. If anything goes wrong with the operation of fish processing equipment, conveyor belts, generators, winches, cranes, and other types of equipment, accidents can happen.
In some cases, products like these used in the maritime industry may be defective. Employers are responsible for providing workers with equipment that is functioning and well-maintained, but a defect may come from the manufacturer and may have nothing to do with your employer. If you are a maritime worker and you have been injured because of a defective piece of equipment, you have rights. Federal maritime law provides for workers to seek compensation in these cases.
Product Liability and Maritime Law
In any workplace or any area of life, consumers are able to seek damages from manufacturers when a product is defective. The maker of the product is considered to be liable for injuries and damage caused by a defect. For normal product liability, suing for damages is fairly straightforward. In the maritime industry it can be a little more complicated and the injured party may be required to submit more proof. This is where maritime attorneys become so important. These professionals help workers navigate the law and determine how to proceed when a defective product has caused an accident.
A Supreme Court case from 1986 (East River S.S. Corp v. Transamerica De Laval) determined that maritime products liability should be separate from general product liability. The same rules couldn’t apply to maritime defective products and accidents caused by them, so this case set the new standard. To have a right to collect damages from a defective maritime product, the injured party has to prove that the injury happened while on navigable waters and that it occurred while maritime-related work was being done, and of course that the product was defective according to the governing rules.
Under the specific rules for maritime products, the item in question is considered to be defective, or to have defects, if it has a flaw in its design, in the materials from which it is made, or in its construction. Furthermore, a product may be considered defective if the manufacturer did not include adequate labeling to warn that safety equipment must be used to operate it correctly and safely.
The Danger of Defective Products
Working on a ship, on an offshore rig, or as a longshoreman are all dangerous jobs. If you work in the maritime industry you put yourself at risk in many ways. You face rough waters, the risk of drowning, bad weather, strenuous physical work, long hours, and many other hazards including working with specialized equipment. Even when this equipment is not defective, it is easy to have an accident and be injured. A part could be broken and go unfixed, a worker might be inadequately trained, or someone just might make a mistake and the consequences can be serious.
When any one of the products you work with is defective, it puts everyone at risk. From trawler winches, to loading cranes, to personnel movers, to fishing nets, fish processing equipment and engine room components and electronic systems, defects can cause accidents and injuries. In the worst cases, these defects may cause accidents that lead to fatalities. If you expect a piece of equipment to work correctly, and you use it accordingly, you may end up with some serious injuries when it doesn’t behave the way it is expected to.
When equipment malfunctions it could be due to neglected maintenance or repairs, or it could be a defect from the manufacturer. Regardless of the underlying cause, when equipment malfunctions it can be disastrous. For instance, a defective electrical system could cause a fire, which could lead to illness from smoke inhalation, burns, and even a sunken ship. A conveyor belt that malfunctions could catch a worker’s clothing and drag him into the fish processing equipment. Workers have lost limbs in these kinds of accidents. With huge cranes used to load and unload cargo, a defect could cause a large load to drop on workers, which can be deadly.
Liability for Defective Maritime Products
When a product malfunctions, there could be any number of reasons. If a defect in the product is to blame, liability goes to the manufacturer in most cases. It is the responsibility of the maker of the product to ensure that they are selling fully-functioning, safe products. Claiming to not know about a defect is not an adequate defense. A manufacturer is expected to have quality control in place to ensure defects are caught before products go out to consumers.
It may also be possible that an employer holds some liability in the event that a worker is injured by a defective product. If an employer knows about a defect in a piece of equipment a worker has to use to do a job, but allows workers to continue to use the equipment anyway, he or she shares some of the blame and can also be held liable in a lawsuit by an injured worker looking for compensation.
Legal Help for Injured Workers
If you work in the maritime industry, you face a lot of risks in your daily work. There are inherent risks in this kind of work, but you also have a right to a workplace that is made as safe as possible. It is your employer’s responsibility to create a safe work environment, and it is a manufacturer’s responsibility to ensure that products you work with are free from defects and safe to use. If anyone fails you in either of these regards, you can expect to be owed compensation to cover medical costs, lost wages, and more.
When you seek compensation in the wake of an equipment failure that caused you to be injured, you can expect to face push back. Your employer and the manufacturer of the product may try to blame each other to get out of liability, or they may even try to blame you. It is important that you have professional guidance and strong representation to stand up to your company and the manufacturer. Maritime law and product liability can be confusing, but an experienced maritime lawyer can help guide you through everything you need to do to get the compensation you deserve.