The state of Virginia has a long maritime history with an Atlantic coast that has seen ships coming and going since the first Europeans arrived in the 1600s. There are several terminals and port areas along the coast in the main harbor and inland as well, but all are part of the large complex called the Port of Virginia. This includes areas like Newport News, Portsmouth, Norfolk, Richmond, Craney Island, and others. Everything is run by the Virginia Port Authority and is centered on the harbor in Hampton Roads.
A huge part of the state’s economy and a significant chunk of the workforce are dependent on the ports. Cargo and container shipping is a huge industry here and for those employed in the ports or on the ships, every work day is both exciting and dangerous. Moving cargo and containers is serious work and the terminals that make up the Port of Virginia are crowded and busy with trucks, tractors, cranes, workers, and cargo, making accidents all too common. For those workers injured on the job, Virginia maritime lawyers are ready to help get compensation.
The Port of Virginia
The sprawling Port of Virginia is really more than just a single port. It is a complex of multiple terminals and ports. The complex includes four marine terminals and one container transfer facility, all located on the Hampton Roads Harbor, expansion out to Craney Island, and the inland port at Richmond. The harbor is the deepest natural harbor on the east coast of the U.S. and the channels throughout the port are maintained to a depth of 50 feet. More cargo comes into Virginia and leaves by rail than at any other east coast port. The six facilities that make up the port include:
- Norfolk International Terminals. This is the largest part of the port with 648 acres. It is served by almost 90,000 feet of railway, 17 interchange trucking lanes, and 11 Suez-class container cranes.
- Newport News Marine Terminal. This is the smallest of the four main facilities, but still includes four large container cranes and several hundred thousand feet of warehouse space as well as two berths for cruise ships and breakbulk.
- Portsmouth Marine Terminal. This is the second largest Port of Virginia facility and it covers over 200 acres. There are seven cranes here and nearly 4,000 feet of wharf.
- Virginia International Gateway. This is a privately-owned terminal, although it has been leased for the long-term to the Virginia Port Authority. It is highly automated and handles container shipping.
- Virginia Inland Port. This smaller port is 220 miles inland and first opened in 1989, the first time the port was extended so far away from the rest of the facilities.
- Richmond Marine Terminal. Previously known as the Port of Richmond, this facility joined the Port of Virginia in 2010. It is located on the banks of the James River and is owned by the city of Richmond. Barge service to the terminal provides an alternative to truck and rail for moving cargo from the main harbor further inland.
- Craney Island. With the demand for more space for cargo and container shipping, the four Hampton Roads Harbor ports required expansion. Planning and construction for the newest facility is currently underway.
Accidents at the Port of Virginia
With such a busy and prosperous port complex, it’s no wonder that accidents happen at all of the facilities. Negligence can be a big player in maritime accidents, but the nature of the work is naturally conducive to accidents. There are a lot of big, complicated, and moving parts that must be coordinated and that can cause serious accidents when they fail. The huge cranes that move cargo and containers, the ships moving through the busy channels, and the trucks and tractors navigating the crowded terminals are all sources of possible accidents and injuries, even deaths.
In 2009 a foreman on the docks working in the Norfolk International Terminals died in a tragic accident. He died nearly instantly when a large light pole fell on the vehicle in which he had been sitting working on paper work. Another longshoreman was driving a straddle carrier at the time and struck the light pole with the vehicle. This is what caused it to come crashing down on the car. The straddle carrier is a large vehicle with a crane used for lifting and carrying containers. The driver of the carrier was not criminally charged, but the Terminal was fined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for not properly training the driver, who had been involved in multiple other crashes.
Another worker sadly died at the Portsmouth Marine Terminal in 2011 after being struck by a moving forklift. The worker was a slinger, using a radio from the pier to guide crane operators. As she stood on the pier directing, another worker driving a forklift picked up a load of steel bins, moved forward and struck the slinger. Because of the bins he had just picked up, his vision was obscured and he couldn’t see that she was in the path of the forklift. Safety regulations say that forklift drivers are supposed to go in reverse when their forward view is blocked. This driver’s disregard for the rules cost another worker her life.
Not all of the maritime accidents around ports occur on dry land. The channels and harbors that lead into terminals and ports are crowded, dangerous, and also see accidents often. In 1999 a container ship and U.S. Navy destroyer collided just off the coast of the Port of Virginia. Such collisions are not uncommon in crowded waters and are often serious. In this case, just one sailor was injured with a broken arm. No one else was hurt, and although the ships were damaged, both were able to sail into port for repairs.
Legal Rights and Maritime Resources
If you are a maritime worker in Virginia, you have rights and resources that you can call upon if you end up injured in a workplace accident. Whether you work in the port or one of the terminals or you work on a ship, you have rights under federal maritime law. Your employer is required to provide you with a certain amount of compensation when you get hurt on the job, as long as the accident was not caused by your own negligence.
As a seaman working aboard a ship you have rights under the Jones Act. If you are injured and someone else’s negligence contributed to the accident, this law provides you with a way to file a claim and start a lawsuit if your employer refuses to pay you or will not pay what you think you are owed. Under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Act, workers in the port have similar rights. You do not have to prove any negligence, though. You simply have the right to workers’ compensation if injured. Both of these laws extend rights and compensation to your dependent loved ones if you die on the job.
What happens if you have to file a claim or start a lawsuit to get the money you need for your lost wages and medical bills? Will you know what to do or what steps to take? Do you know when the deadlines are for filing or when it is too late and you have signed away your rights? It can be confusing, but fortunately, Virginia maritime lawyers are experts in maritime law and getting money from employers and their insurance companies. The next time you experience an injury at work that has you sidelined, don’t accept limited compensation or no money at all. Fight for what you are owed and let a maritime lawyer be there to guide you, to represent you, and to make sure you understand what steps to take to get back on your feet and back to work.