If you are a commercial fisherman injured on the job, you have several ways to get compensation, including federal maritime laws that give you the right to sue for damages. The job is particularly dangerous in the waters of Alaska. The state created the Alaska Fishermen’s Fund as an additional source of 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 most injuries and fatalities in the commercial fishing business occur in Alaska.
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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
A commercial fishing license is the main requirement for qualifying for compensation through the Fund. A fisherman injured and claiming the Fund must have had a license before the accident 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, including:
- The accident that caused the injury must have occurred on Alaskan waters or onshore in the state.
- Medical care must be documented, and that documentation must be submitted with the application.
- The treatment for the injury must have begun within 60 days of the incident.
- The application for making a claim must be submitted within one year of that initial medical treatment, not of the accident.
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 get documented medical treatment.
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 unrelated 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.
The Fund does not cover many conditions, including:
- The common cold or flu
- Strep throat
- Insect bite
- Cracked teeth
- Smoking-related illnesses
- Conditions caused by drug or alcohol use
Chronic conditions aggravated by job duties but not caused by commercial fishing may not be covered.
Expenses covered include:
- Medical treatment
- Physical therapy
- Prescription medications
- Hospital stays
- Chiropractic care
- 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 the administrator needs more information. It does not necessarily mean that you have been denied benefits.
When this happens, further review is required, 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 request must be submitted in writing and signed by the fisherman making the claim. It must go to the Office of the Department of Labor and Workforce Commissioner within the prescribed period, or the decision will be made final.
If you want to claim the Alaska Fishermen’s Fund, remember that it is designed to be a source of last resort for compensation for medical care. Before applying for compensation, you will be expected to have exhausted other resources first, including health insurance and public programs.
If you need assistance deciding whether or not you can make a claim or go through the process of applying or appealing, you can contact a lawyer experienced in maritime law and the commercial fishing industry.