Illinois is a Midwestern state in the heart of the U.S., but thanks to the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway, is connected to the Atlantic Ocean and international shipping. The small coast the state has along the southwest shores of Lake Michigan allows Illinois to have one major port, plus a few smaller ones, both on the lake and a little ways inland on the Des Plaines River. The Illinois International Port District is a port complex centered on Chicago that makes up the largest part of the state’s maritime industry.
Working in the busy Chicago ports or on the ships that have to navigate all the way through the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes is full of daily risks and dangers. If you work in this industry in the state of Illinois, you probably earn a good living, but you also face the possibility of getting hurt on the job. If you do, the cost of getting back on your feet may be astronomical. To help you get compensation after a workplace accident, let an Illinois maritime lawyer be your guide and your representative.
The Ports of Illinois
Illinois’s largest port is the complex of terminals, ports, and docks called the Illinois International Port District. The Port of Chicago is the largest port in the district, but there are other important ports too. For instance Calumet Harbor is a busy port and is kept in good shape by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Illinois’s ports include multiple terminals and harbors with both berths for shipping and storage for liquid and dry cargo. There is also a Foreign Trade Zone here operated by the Illinois International Port District. Although Illinois is so far inland, this area represents a point of entry for the U.S. since international ships may come all the way up from the ocean without stopping at any other terminals.
From the port area in Illinois, cargo can be sent out by rail, by truck, or by barge. Barges go from Chicago and surrounding area down the Mississippi River to various destinations north and south of Illinois and out into the Gulf of Mexico for international trade. A small, regional cruise industry also makes it home here in Illinois. Smaller cruise lines that specialize in tours of the Great Lakes and Midwest have docks in Chicago.
The Dangers of Maritime Work
All maritime jobs come with hazards, including those on ships and those in ports. Working in the ports of Illinois can be very dangerous because these are busy places with a lot of moving parts and a lot of heavy and complicated machinery. For instance, accidents with the large cranes used to lift cargo and containers are all too common in ports. One mistake by the crane operator or miscommunication between the operator and someone on the ground, and cargo can drop or swing and hurt or kill someone.
In ports there are also risks when it comes to tractors, forklifts, and trucks. These vehicles have to move all around the port moving people and cargo and accidents with them are not uncommon. Many port workers have been struck and either injured or killed in such incidents. Sometimes it is the cargo that presents a danger. Toxic or flammable cargo can spill and cause fires or exposure accidents. Heavy cargo can drop or be released at the wrong time and crush or hurt workers.
Jobs aboard the ships that come in and out of Illinois ports are also dangerous. Navigating the crowded and relatively narrow waters of the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Mississippi River is not easy. Grounding, sinking, and colliding with other ships or objects happen sometimes and cause people to get hurt. These accidents can also cause spills of chemicals or oil that cause major environmental disasters. Working the barges that leave Illinois ports to head down the Mississippi River is particularly dangerous. Barge workers are susceptible to falling into the water, getting crushed or struck by moving objects, being caught in fires or getting hurt while handling the lines used for docking.
Accidents in the Illinois Maritime Industry
Although it is possible to take precautions to keep workers safe, maritime accidents are almost inevitable to some extent and Illinois has experienced several such incidents. The barges that leave the state and move cargo down the Mississippi toward the Gulf of Mexico are particularly vulnerable to accidents. In 2013 a pile up of at least four barges on the river caused a serious oil spill and stopped traffic on the river for more than a day. The accident occurred when barges being pushed by tugs collided. While no one was injured, this was a major environmental accident.
Another barge incident occurred on the Illinois River in 2013. A towing vessel was headed down the river while pushing 14 barges. As it attempted to enter a canal next to a dam a cross current came up and dislodged several of the barges. Several of these struck and damaged the dam before sinking. No one was injured in the incident, but it caused over $50 million in damage to the barges, cargo, and the dam.
The most famous and terribly tragic accident that occurred in Illinois’s maritime industry occurred in 1944 when a munitions explosion shook the Port of Chicago. The explosion killed 320 civilians and sailors. Nearly 400 other people were injured. The incident led to a mutiny by servicemen who refused to work under the unsafe conditions that caused the explosion.
Legal Rights for Illinois Maritime Workers
The possibility of workplace accidents and resulting injuries is all too real for anyone working in Illinois’ maritime industry. Whether you work in the ports, on shipping vessels, on small cruise ships, or on the barges that head down the Mississippi, you put your life at risk every day on the job. If you get hurt, become sick, or are even killed on the job, it has big repercussions for your life and the lives of the family that depends on you.
For these reasons the federal government has laws in place to ensure that maritime workers have a right to seek and get compensation for workplace injuries. Their loved ones also have a right to get money for the deaths of maritime workers. Different laws apply to different types of jobs and situations. For instance if you work on a ship and your employer’s negligence played even a little role in your accident, you can seek compensation through the Jones Act. If you are injured as a longshore worker you can seek compensation through the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.
Knowing which law applies to you, how to use that law to get money, and fighting against an employer who doesn’t want to pay up is challenging. This is why you should rely on an Illinois maritime lawyer if you get hurt on the job. Let this expert who has studied the law and helped others like you guide you through the process of filing a claim and getting the money you need to recover from your accident. With a professional like this as your representation, you can be sure that you will get the money you are owed.