Commercial fishermen work in the most dangerous job in the country. Statistics show that more injuries and fatalities occur in this line of work than any other. Conditions are naturally hazardous for commercial fishermen and combined with the long hours, lack of sleep, and physically demanding nature of the work, it is no wonder that this is the riskiest career.
If you are a commercial fisherman and you are injured on the job, you have several ways to get compensation, including federal maritime laws that give you the right to sue for damages when your employer refuses to pay. Because the job is so dangerous and more people work in this industry in Alaska than anywhere else, the state has a special fund in addition to the federal laws that provides compensation for injured or killed fishermen and their families.
What is the Alaska Fishermen’s Fund?
Statistics collected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the vast majority of injuries and fatalities in the commercial fishing business occur in Alaska. The Fishermen’s Fund for Alaska was started in 1951 to ensure that the men and women injured in this dangerous job receive needed treatment and care. The funds come from the revenue generated by commercial fishermen’s licenses and permit fees collected by the state from both residents and non-residents.
How to Qualify for Benefits
The main requirement for qualifying for compensation through the Fund is a commercial fishing license. A fisherman injured and making a claim through the Fund must have had a license before the accident occurred, or must have been working on a limited entry permit. The date of the limited entry permit is measured by when it was embossed, not when the fee was paid.
There are other qualifications as well, including the requirement that the accident that caused the injury occurred on Alaskan waters or onshore in the state. The treatment for the injury must have begun within 60 days of the incident, and the application for making a claim must be submitted within one year of that initial medical treatment, not of the accident. Medical care must be documented and that documentation submitted with the application.
Filing a Claim
If you are a licensed Alaskan commercial fisherman and have been injured on the job, you can submit an application, or file a claim, to receive benefits through the Alaska Fishermen’s Fund. The first things you need to do to ensure your claim will be valid are to report your injury and to get documented medical treatment for it. There are official forms that must be completed by the medical caregiver treating you: the Fishermen’s Report of Injury or Illness and the Physician’s Report of Injury or Illness. Both you and the physician must complete and submit these forms within one year of the medical treatment you received for your injury. When you submit the forms you must also include the following:
- A copy of your commercial fishing license or limited entry permit
- Information about your health insurance and your employer’s Protection and Indemnity deductible
- A detailed description of your injury or illness and how it is related to commercial fishing
- Information about where the injury occurred
- A permanent mailing address, as you can be denied benefits if you do not receive and reply to inquiries
Qualifications for Coverage
To be covered under this Fund, your injury or illness must be “directly connected with operations as a commercial fisherman.” The fund may deny your claim if it is determined that your injury was not directly related to your work. Examples of illnesses and injuries typically covered include hernias, arthritis, varicose veins in the legs, musculoskeletal injuries, bronchitis, and pneumonia. Heart attacks are often included and the total allowance for each occurrence is $10,000.
There are many conditions not covered by the Fund, and these include the common cold or flu, ulcers, cancer, strep throat, insect bites, giardia, smoking-related conditions, conditions caused by drug or alcohol use, cracked teeth, appendicitis, and salmonella. Chronic conditions aggravated by job duties, but not caused by commercial fishing may not be covered.
Expenses covered include costs for medical treatment, physical therapy, prescription medications, hospital stays, rehabilitation, chiropractic care, and transportation to and from medical treatments and doctor visits. Benefits for one person and one injury do not extend beyond one year after the injury and will not exceed $10,000 unless there are compelling reasons to extend compensation.
If Your Claim is Denied
An administrator of the Alaska Fishermen’s must approve each claim for a fisherman to receive benefits. If you get a result that says the administrator cannot approve your claim, it may just mean that the administrator needs more information. It does not necessarily mean that you have been denied benefits. When this happens, further review is needed and a final decision is made by the Fishermen’s Fund Advisory and Appeals Council at their next meeting. It can take up to four weeks to receive a decision from the Council.
Within 15 days of a decision that denies you benefits you may submit a Petition of Reconsideration. You may also appeal the decision, which must be done within 30 days of receiving the official notice of denial of benefits. Each of these requests must be submitted in writing and signed by the fisherman making the claim. It must go to the Office of the Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce within the prescribed time period or the decision will be made final.
If you want to make a claim to the Alaska Fishermen’s Fund, keep in mind that it is designed to be a source of last resort for compensation for medical care. You will be expected to have exhausted other resources first, including health insurance and public programs before applying for compensation. If you need assistance deciding whether or not you can make a claim or going through the process of applying or appealing, you can contact a lawyer experienced in maritime law and the commercial fishing industry.