California is a big state by many measures. In area, it is the third-largest state. It has the largest population in the country. And, in coastline, California is outmatched only by Alaska and Florida. With 840 miles of Pacific Ocean coast, it’s no wonder that California has 11 ports, including three large ports that the state deems “megaports.” These are at Long Beach, Los Angeles, and Oakland.
All ports can be dangerous places for workers, but at these three extra-large ports the hazards are particularly high. If you work in a California port or on a ship that comes into any of the ports, you have a dangerous, but exciting and lucrative job. You can enjoy your job and your earnings, but if you get injured on the job, it can bring all of that crashing down. It’s important to know that federal maritime law provides you with the right to seek compensation after a workplace accident, and a California maritime lawyer is ready and waiting to help if it happens to you.
Among the eleven ports in the state are the three largest ports in Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Oakland, but also eight smaller ports. These are the Ports of Hueneme, Humboldt Bay, Redwood City, Richmond, West Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, and Stockton. The eleventh is a private port called the Port of Benicia.
Together, the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach make up the largest port complex in the country. One-fourth of all cargo in containers imported to or exported from the U.S. goes through one of these two ports. Oakland is the fourth-largest port in the country and is responsible for nearly all of the container cargo that goes through Northern California.
The Dangers of Maritime Work
Maritime work is dangerous work. It is full of hazards that these workers face every day. Accidents are a regular occurrence, both in ports and on ships. Accidents may cause damage to ships, cargo, and equipment only, but in too many cases they cause injuries to workers. In the worst cases, maritime accidents kill workers. It is also true that in too many cases, these accidents could have been prevented if the proper precautions had been taken.
In a busy port there are many different moving parts and a lot of big equipment moving around, not to mention all the people moving around. The shifting of cargo from ship to truck to warehouse, or the reverse, is the source of many accidents in ports. Large cranes for lifting cargo, forklifts, trucks, and even the cargo itself cause accidents and injuries. Workers may be hit by a crane, falling cargo, or a truck or forklift and be injured or killed. These accidents occur when equipment isn’t working right or hasn’t been maintained well, when workers miscommunicate or make poor decisions, or when safety equipment isn’t adequate.
The workers who spend most of their time on ships also face a lot of daily risks. The ships that come into the ports of California employ many seamen who face rough waters and bad weather. They may be victims of collisions, falls overboard, sinking or capsizing vessels, onboard fires, electrical mishaps, or accidents with onboard equipment and machinery.
Examples of Maritime Accidents in California
With so many ports and such a big maritime industry, the state of California sees a significant number of accidents in ports and on ships. Some are minor and cause no injuries, other cause environmental and monetary damage, while still other accidents lead to injuries or even fatalities for the workers involved. Rarely is such an accident truly accidental. In most cases investigators can pinpoint blame somewhere or an action that should have been taken to prevent the accident.
In an example of an accident that could have caused fatalities, a commercial fishing boat sunk off the coast of California in 2012. Thankfully the crew members were able to abandon the ship, with their cat, and were rescued without injury. The accident was found to have occurred because there was a weakness in the hull that caused the ship to take on water. If it had been properly checked and maintained, the sinking could have been avoided.
Another ship accident occurred in 2007 when a container ship collided with a tower on the Oakland Bay Bridge in the San Francisco Bay. The ship was leaving the Port of Oakland for South Korean port when the pilot guiding the ship hit the tower. The cause was determined to be poor navigation by the pilot in low-visibility conditions, caused by his use of certain medications and a lack of communication. Although no one was hurt in the accident it led to a huge spill of fuel into the Bay, which caused a big environmental disaster and the deaths of thousands of birds.
Workers in port-based accidents are not always as lucky as those escaping injuries in ship accidents. In 2010 a Long Beach dock worker died on the job. He was driving a utility tractor through the port when he struck another utility tractor. The accident was enough to eject him from the tractor. On the ground he was run over by the vehicle and killed. Another tractor fatality occurred at the Port of Los Angeles in 2013 when the vehicle fell into the water with a worker in the cab. He could not be rescued from his trapped position in the cab and drowned.
California Maritime Lawyers
If you work in any part of the maritime industry in California, you have the right to seek compensation after an accident at work that injures you or makes you ill. If you die on the job, your dependents also have a right to seek compensation. The money to which you are entitled is supposed to be used to help you pay for medical expenses, to cover lost wages until you go back to work, and to repay you for any lost earning potential you face in the future. You may even be able to get money for pain and suffering.
Finding yourself in the difficult position of being injured at work, you may actually be facing a fight for that compensation. Employer’s insurers are not always willing to pay and you may have to file claims with certain maritime laws, go through arbitration, or even go to trial to fight for what you are owed. It’s not easy to win against big companies, but a California maritime lawyer can help you do it. With the expertise of a professional who has done this before, you can successfully fight against those who don’t want to pay and get the money you deserve and that will help you get your life back together