Alaska Commercial Fishermen Injury Attorney

This video features Mark Choate, a Criminal Law attorney based in Alaska.

Legal Options for Injured Seamen

Video Transcript:

Mark Choate: 

You definitely need to talk to an attorney who has an interest in and works in this area because of seamen are killed.

Rob Rosenthal: 

When a commercial fishermen is injured on the job, what are their rights and how do they get help? We're gonna find out right now, 'cause that's what we're going to, "Ask the Lawyer" on this episode. Here to answer our questions is Alaska attorney Mark Choate. I wanna remind you if you wanna ask Mark questions of your own, it's easy. Go to askthelawyers.com. Click the button at the top that says Ask A Lawyer, or you can simply call the phone number that you'll see on the screen while we talk. Mark, it's always a pleasure to see you. Thank you for helping us out.

Mark Choate: 

Great seeing you.

Rob Rosenthal: 

I'm sure you've seen a lot of these type of commercial fishermen injuries in your career. Give me a couple of examples. What sort of things are we talking about?

Mark Choate: 

Well, commercial fishing is a dangerous business. You're in usually open waters. You're usually on vessels that are moving up and down and sideways. You've got current, wind, tide, swells. You've got often lots of bad weather, can be rain, snow, sleet, things are frozen or icy. And you have lots of hydraulic equipment, things that are very heavy and big pulling, tugging, moving. So they're all opportunities for commercial fishermen to get hurt.

Rob Rosenthal: 

Now most commercial fishermen injured in this situations, as I understand it, would not be eligible for state workers comp. It's a federal thing. Tell me how that works and what sort of things are they eligible for?

Mark Choate: 

There's laws that go back literally hundreds and hundreds of years, well, before the founding of the United States that protect seamen, meaning... 'cause we've always had sailors who worked on vessels and traveled around the world, and the laws are very, very protective of seamen, and that includes commercial fishermen. And those laws are designed to make sure that if they get hurt, that they get medical coverage. If they get hurt, they have at least some money to be able to stay while they're getting medical coverage. The laws then also provide ways to hold the shipowners responsible, both in what's called for unseaworthiness, which is sort of if there's a condition which makes the vessel less safe than it should be, would normally be, that can by itself strict liability it... The seamen can go after the vessel for unseaworthiness. And then if there's been some negligence, even if it's just a feather weight of negligence is a term they use, you can sue under the Jones Act. And so there's what's called maintenance and cure, which is taking care of you and paying for your medicals, there's unseaworthiness and then there's Jones Act, all available to commercial fishermen.

Rob Rosenthal: 

Tell me more about maintenance and cure. What sort of things are covered under that. What will that pay?

Mark Choate: 

In the cure part, which is the medical part, it's gonna pay for every inch and must pay for all expenses that are related to any injury onboard, irrespective of fault. So if you just simply slip because you're not looking where you're going, or you bang your head on something that you shouldn't have because you knew better, you still get cure. And cure will pay for all of your reasonable medical expenses, including your evacuation to shore, or your evacuation to a hospital or wherever, up to the point that you reach maximum medical improvement which means there's nothing else that could be done to help you get better. Then there's maintenance and maintenance is a daily amount that is paid to, in theory, cover your cost for not being on the vessel. So a place to live and a place for food. Maintenance is generally, really awful, like from maybe $60-$90 a day. And $60 a day you're not gonna stay anywhere and eat on $60 a day, but a lot of maintenance is at that level. But you are entitled to both those things. Interestingly, the courts have held that if a vessel fails to provide maintenance and cure they can be responsible for punitive damages, which can be a huge thing. So generally speaking, most vessel owners and their insurance companies are gonna pay maintenance and cure because the risk of not paying it are very hard.

Rob Rosenthal: 

What about payment for pain and suffering, Mark, does that figure in somewhere?

Mark Choate: 

Not with the maintenance and cure side. With the unseaworthiness side or the Jones Act side, unseaworthiness is again, there's a condition the vessel which is unseaworthy, and that could be everything from a part that should have been replaced or something that's sharp or something that's not being maintained correctly to even a fellow crew member who is not trained properly or they're too tired because they've not gotten enough rest. There's a lot of ways that you can bring an unseaworthiness claim. Those claims can result in both your lost earnings, lost future earnings, plus damages like pain and suffering. Jones Act, which is a negligence claim, also will let you to bring claims for pain and suffering.

Rob Rosenthal: 

You mentioned this is a dangerous occupation. Many times these accidents or these situations can end in death. If it does, what does a surviving spouse, if there is one or family members, need to know? What's your advice to them?

Mark Choate: 

Well, they need to certainly make a claim depending on how the person is killed. Again, you have these remedies of unseaworthiness and Jones Act. There are some limitations on death cases, and so you may not get the same types of values in a death case on a vessel as you would potentially in some state jurisdictions, but it depends. A lot of these cases can be brought, even though the law is mainly federal law, they can be brought in state courts where you can get juries. Juries can sometimes give you much better verdicts than you might get from a judge. But you definitely need to talk to an attorney who has an interest and works in this area because seamen are killed. It does happen relatively frequently, which is why we have these laws to protect seamen.

Rob Rosenthal: 

Lots of really helpful information as usual, Mark. Thank you for making some time to answer our questions. I appreciate it.

Mark Choate: 

You're welcome.

Rob Rosenthal: 

That's gonna do it for this episode of "Ask the Lawyer". My guest has been Alaska attorney, Mark Choate. I wanna remind you if you wanna ask Mark any questions of your own, just go to askthelawyers.com. Click the button at the top that says, Ask A Lawyer, and it'll walk you through the very simple process. Thanks for watching. I'm Rob Rosenthal with "Ask the Lawyers".

Disclaimer: This video is for informational purposes only. In some states, this video may be deemed Attorney Advertising. The choice of lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.


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