Maritime workers face dangerous conditions on the job, from operating heavy equipment or working around container cranes in a port, to fishing on rough waters in Alaska in the winter, or operating oil wells on offshore platforms. These jobs, and all the others that make up the maritime industry, come with a lot of serious risks. Workers may die on the job from injuries, illness, from ship collisions and sinkings, or even from explosions and fires.
When workers die on the job in the maritime industry they may leave behind loved ones, including those family members who were dependent on their income. Maritime workers have laws to protect them when they are injured on the job, and many of these laws also cover their dependents in the event that they die while working or later from illness or sustained injuries. Make sure you know what your loved ones will need to do in case the worst happens.
Death Benefits under the Jones Act
The Jones Act is the maritime law that specifically covers the rights of seamen. These are the workers who spend a significant amount of time working on seagoing vessels. Crew members of all types, from cooks to captains are covered under this law, as are workers on oil tankers, cruise ships, ferries, fishing boats, and any number of other ships. A maritime lawyer can tell you for sure if you considered a seaman by law.
The Jones Act protects seamen by providing a way to sue an employer after an accident or other incident in which that employer is negligent. The burden of proof for the seaman is low in the case of the Jones Act. If you are hurt, you only need to prove that your employer was negligent and that negligence played even a small role in causing the accident that hurt you.
In the case of a death on the job, the Jones Act extends that same right to dependents. Your loved ones can file a claim through the Jones Act if your employer can be shown to be at least a little bit negligent in your death. These death benefits can be a big relief, especially if you have children. The compensation they will get will help provide for them after losing your income.
Death on the High Seas Act
In addition to the Jones Act, seamen have another avenue for compensation for their loved ones after dying on the job. If the death occurs at least three nautical miles out to sea, the Death on the High Seas Act, or DOHSA, can be called upon for benefits for dependents. Negligence or wrongdoing must be proven to get benefits under DOHSA. Unlike the Jones Act the compensation from this law does not cover things like pain and suffering, grief, or mental anguish. If the worker who died shared some of the negligence in causing the accident, the law will still provide for his or her dependents.
The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act
If you work in a port or terminal, as a longshoreman, stevedore, crane operator, or similar position, you are most likely covered for benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, or LHWCA. This is a federal workers’ compensation program for workers like you. You do not have to prove any negligence to get money through this program.
In addition to providing compensation after an accident, the LHWCA provides death benefits to widows or widowers and dependent children. A claim must be filed within one year of the death, but can be substantial and provide dependents with the money they need to cover everyday expenses as well as funeral costs.
The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act
The LHWCA was extended in the 1950s to include people working on the outer continental shelf. These workers include mostly those that work on offshore oil platforms, drills, and rigs, but may also include the workers transporting materials and personnel to and from these locations. The OCSLA provides workers’ compensation if you qualify and are inured on the job, but like the other laws, also provides death benefits to your dependents.
The OCSLA covers offshore workers, but in the event you are killed while on shore the law will still provide for your loved ones. A case was decided when a widow was denied death benefits under the OCSLA. Her husband was an offshore worker but died in an incident at his employer’s on shore facility. The employer denied her benefits, but taking it to court she was granted the right to compensation. This paved the way for other people to get benefits in similar situations after losing a loved one.
How Death Benefits Help
Death benefits won’t replace a loved one, and they can’t relieve grief. However, not needing to worry about money can be a big relief, especially if your loved ones are grieving your loss and struggling to come to terms with the loss. Most practically death benefits replace the income that your loved ones were dependent on for living expenses. These benefits can also help pay for funeral expenses, which can be high.
Compensation through maritime law may also help cover any medical or counseling care that your loved ones need after your death. It can be applied simply to pain and suffering. Losing a loved one to a tragic work accident is terrible, and there will be suffering that cannot be repaid. However, having the money does make a difference and can take a big burden from the surviving family members.
What to Do after Losing a Loved One
If you lost a loved one to a maritime job, you are facing a difficult time. It is important, though, that you determine what happened and consult with a maritime lawyer to recover the benefits to which you are entitled. Most of the laws that provide for death benefits for maritime workers have a time limit. If you are too late, you may miss your chance to get compensation for your loss. Whether you are the spouse or a child of a worker who died on the job, you can make a claim and get the money you are owed.
A maritime lawyer is the professional you need to help you get through this process. While you are grieving a lawyer can be your advocate and guide, helping you figure out what you can recover and what steps to take to get there. A lawyer can also fight for you if your loved one’s employer tries to deny coverage. Trust the professional expertise of someone who knows maritime law and don’t try to take any steps without this assistance.