According to statistics on deaths and injuries, commercial fishermen have the most dangerous job in the U.S. Working in this job means spending weeks or months at sea, long hours, physically strenuous work, and facing hazardous conditions every day. If you are a commercial fisherman, you are not covered by typical state workers’ compensation insurance. You are covered under several maritime laws, however, that provide workers in this dangerous industry compensation and benefits in the case of injury, accident, or illness.
The Dangerous Job of Commercial Fishing
As the most dangerous job in the country, there are many ways in which a commercial fisherman can become injured or even killed while working. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 610 nonfatal injuries and illnesses among fishermen between 2003 and 2009. During that same period, 334 workers died on the job.
The most common types of injuries included accidents with objects or equipment on board the fishing vessel and overexertion. The greatest number of fatal accidents occurred in Alaska with Massachusetts and Florida coming in second and third place. The majority of deaths resulted from sinking or capsizing vessels, or falling overboard. Actual causes of death for most of these workers was drowning or hypothermia.
Maintenance and Cure
The first law that gives rights to injured or sick commercial fishermen is the ancient law of maintenance and cure. If you qualify as a seaman, which means you spend at least 30 percent of your time on a vessel, and your work contributes to the purpose of the vessel, you are entitled to maintenance and cure compensation from your employer when you are injured or become sick while working.
Most fishermen qualify under this law. Your employer does not have to have been negligent in the incident for you to get compensation for maintenance, your daily living expenses while you can’t be aboard the ship working, and cure, your medical expenses resulting from the work injury or illness.
The Doctrine of Unseaworthiness
Commercial fishermen who have been injured on the job may also qualify for rights under the doctrine of unseaworthiness. This law states that ship owners are obligated to provide workers with a vessel that is seaworthy, and if he or she does not, injured workers can sue for damages if that injury resulted from a deficiency that made the ship unseaworthy.
Being unseaworthy does not just mean a ship is unable to navigate or float. Unseaworthiness could result from any lack of maintenance or equipment defects that put workers aboard the ship at risk of an injury or illness. A vessel is unseaworthy if any aspect of it is faulty or not well-maintained.
The Jones Act
As a commercial fisherman and a seaman, you also have rights under the Jones Act. This law applies to all seamen and comes into effect when a seaman is injured or becomes ill on the job because of some negligence on the part of the employer. Your burden of proof to get compensation through the Jones Act is low. You only have to prove that your employer was negligent and that the negligence contributed, even in small part, to your injury or illness.
You can use your rights under the Jones Act if your employer is not giving you the compensation you believe you deserve. The Act allows you to sue for damages, which may include lost wages, lost future wages, medical expenses, and even pain and suffering.
The Alaska Fishermen’s Fund
Because so much commercial fishing takes place in Alaskan waters, and many of the illnesses and fatalities aboard shipping vessels occur there, the state created the Alaska Fishermen’s Fund. This provides another source of compensation in the event that a commercial fisherman is injured on the job, even if that injury occurred offshore.
If you work on a commercial fishing vessel and you have been injured on the job, know your rights. You are not covered by state workers’ compensation programs, but you are covered by several different specialized maritime laws. You have rights and those include compensation for your injury. Contact an experienced maritime lawyer to help you get the money you deserve.