Texas is home to 18 different ports along the canals and coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Holding a strategic and important position near the border with Mexico, the Port of Brownsville is one of the state’s busiest ports. In addition to shipping, the port has a thriving commercial fishing industry with many vessels going out to fish in the Gulf.
Working in this busy port or on one of its many ships is dangerous and full of everyday hazards. If you work in the port or as a seaman on one of the ships, know that you have rights under federal maritime law. These laws are designed to protect workers like you and to provide a way to get the money that will get you back on your feet after an accident. A Brownsville maritime lawyer can help you get compensation if you are injured on the job.
The Port of Brownsville
The port is the largest public port authority in the country in terms of area. The unique international position and the fact that it has the only natural deep water harbor in the state means that Galveston has become a crucial port for international trade and shipping. Millions of tons of steel products, liquid cargo, breakbulk, and other types of cargo go through the port each year. The main imports in the port are steel slabs, steel plates, iron ore, steel beams, and hot and cold roll. The biggest exports include steel products, grain, lubricants, and petroleum products.
There is also a significant commercial fishing presence here at the Port of Brownsville. The position on the Gulf gives fishermen access to waters rich in shrimp especially. The area of the port designated for fishing boats is called the Fishing Harbor. It has three deep basins with over 10,000 feet of dock space. At any given time, about 500 fishing boats call the Harbor home base.
There are many ways in which accidents can happen in a busy port like Brownsville, and many different incidents that cause injuries and even deaths. One of the most common types of port accidents involves cranes and other cargo equipment. This large machinery is used to lift very heavy cargo and containers and when something goes wrong it can be disastrous. Poor training, poor maintenance, ignoring the need for repairs, lack of communication, and other factors can cause workers to be struck or crushed by equipment.
Other types of accidents common in the maritime industry include trip or slip and falls, falls from walkways, fires, falls into the water, drownings or hypothermia, electrical shocks or fires, exposure to toxic chemicals, capsizing or sinking ships, injuries from commercial fishing equipment, fighting and assaults, and many more.
With a significant commercial fishing presence here, accidents related to fishing are also common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, commercial fishing accidents in the Gulf of Mexico often lead to fatalities. Shrimping is the most dangerous fishing activity in the Gulf with 55 fatalities occurring between 2000 and 2009. The types of accidents that cause these deaths include vessel disasters, falls overboard, diving injuries, and on-board injuries. The latter is most often caused by winches or getting tangled in fishing gear.
Accidents at the Port of Brownsville
Accidents in ports are all too common and are sadly often preventable. Accidents happen when workers haven’t been trained properly, when equipment hasn’t been fixed or maintained, when workers make errors of judgment or fail to communicate with each other, when safety equipment is lacking, and when obstacles and spills cause people to trip or slip. If better precautions were taken in this dangerous work environment, many accidents could be prevented.
In one such accident at the Port of Brownsville, a worker lost his life when a crane failed and dropped tons of iron ore on him. The worker and others were busy unloading iron ore from a ship. The crane had been lifting this cargo when it buckled and dropped the iron ore and the crane bucket carrying it. The bucket and ore dropped from over 100 feet up and crushed and killed the worker. It may have been that the crane operator was lifting too much of the cargo at once, a load that was too much for that crane to handle. Or, it may have been that the crane had not been maintained or repaired correctly and failed.
Another incident in the port that occurred in 2011 did not cause any deaths, but did injure workers and force an evacuation of the area. The incident happened when a leak led to 57,000 gallons of propane being released into the air. Workers were eventually able to fix the leak, but only after the entire large tank had released all of its contents. Seven different companies in the port had to evacuate employees and roads in the area were closed. One worker was injured when part of the leaky valve on the tank struck him as it ruptured and as the leak began.
Legal Rights for Brownsville Maritime Workers
If you work in the Brownsville maritime industry, you have legal rights to seek compensation for injuries sustained in an on-the-job accident. For seamen, the Jones Act among other law provides compensation for accidents caused by negligence. This can be an important law for commercial fishermen who are more at risk of being in an accident than other workers. Longshoremen are covered by the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, which provides money regardless of negligence. Both laws give these benefits to your loved ones if you are killed on the job.
To get the money you are owed after an accident, let a Brownsville maritime lawyer be your guide and representative. Facing off against an employer or insurance company that doesn’t want to pay is not easy and having an experienced lawyer on your team can be a major advantage. If you find yourself in an unfortunate situation after a workplace accident, make sure you rely on this professional so you can get all compensation you need to get better and to get back to work.