Common Commercial Fishing Injuries

Written by AskTheLawyers.com™ on behalf of Mark Choate with Choate Law Firm LLC.

Common Commercial Fishing Injuries
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In any job that requires manual labor and even many that don’t, injuries are a possibility. However, the possibility of injury can be greatly reduced with proper attention to and enforcement of industry safety regulations. Commercial fishing in particular is considered one of the most challenging occupations in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). From hazardous working conditions to long hours, harsh weather, and intensive physical labor, injuries and even fatalities are not uncommon.

According to the Commercial Fishing Incident Database (CFID), from 725 U.S. fishermen died on the job from 2000-2015, with nearly half of those deaths occurring to an onboard disaster, followed by fishermen falling overboard, injuries sustained onboard, and finally diving or onshore injuries. Whenever a fisherman’s death or injury could have been prevented with proper attention to safety, it may be possible to hold the employer accountable.

Some of the most common commercial fishing injuries include:

  • Back injuries
  • Shoulder injuries
  • Repetitive motion injuries
  • Slip and fall injuries
  • Trip and fall injuries
  • Amputation and/or crushed extremities
  • Burns
  • Head injuries
  • Penetrating wounds particularly to the hands and wrists
  • Drowning

According to the CDC, sinkings and capsizings are responsible for the most deaths among U.S. fishermen, but negligence onboard may result in the above or additional injuries. For example, when a deck is cluttered and/or poorly maintained, it is more likely for a fisherman to trip and/or fall overboard. Cargo stored improperly may fall and cause a head or brain injury. Finally, working long hours without breaks, often hauling in overloaded traps and nets can contribute to painful sprains and strains of the body that may result in long-term repetitive motion injuries.

Like any industry, maritime employers are required to adhere to certain rules regarding the safety of their crew. When an employer fails to produce, monitor, and enforce adequate safety protocol, and a fisherman is injured as a result, the employer may be considered legally responsible for their damages.

When a fisherman is injured on the job, maritime law entitles them to a unique method of recovery.

Maritime or “admiralty” law refers to the set of rules and regulations specifically applied to “navigable waters” where U.S. fishermen do the bulk of their work. Unlike injuries that occur on land, an injured fisherman would not file a standard personal injury claim. Instead, maritime workers are protected by the Jones Act. The Jones Act is a federal law included in the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 designed to regulate maritime commerce and protect crewmembers and their families in the event of an injury or death at sea.

While workers’ compensation may also be applicable, if the injury or death could have been avoided with proper attention to safety, it’s important to consider filing a maritime injury claim under the Jones Act. While workers’ compensation may provide short-term benefits including limited medical bills and lost wages, the damages that can be sought under the Jones Act are much more comprehensive. For example, under the Jones Act, an injured fisherman can seek compensation for past and future medical bills, lost wages, impairment of earning capacity, permanent disability, pain and suffering, and more.

An injured fisherman should not be represented by a standard personal injury attorney, but by a maritime law attorney who is familiar with the Jones Act and commercial fishing in particular. To learn more about commercial fishing injuries, or to discuss your claim, reach out to a maritime lawyer.

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