Five Common Causes of Maritime Accidents

September 20, 2022

Advancing technology and better safety measures have helped the maritime industry become safer. However, maritime accidents are still possible and can cause millions of dollars worth of damages or the loss of life. Everything from a vessel owner’s negligence to seemingly uncontrollable natural disasters can result in maritime accidents.

1. Bad Weather and Natural Disasters

Anything from rough storms to natural disasters can trigger extensive damage and cause maritime accidents. This does not mean a vessel owner, managing company or individual did not ultimately cause the damage. For example, in September 2005, a rig broke loose during Hurricane Rita and allided or struck a stationary platform on the outer continental shelf off the coast of Louisiana at South Marsh Island, causing extensive damage to a platform. In some cases like this, attorneys must determine whether a vessel was anchored or moored properly, what caused a vessel to run free during a storm and ultimately allide with a fixed structure, and more. While a natural disaster may have triggered the accident, it does not mean personnel was competently hired or properly instructed by supervisors. Attorneys for an injured party will investigate the facts of each case to determine the potential liability of others to help make the injured party whole.

2. Faulty Design of a Vessel or Part

Vessel designers are liable for designing faulty vessels and some parts on board. A longshoreman working aboard a vessel fell overboard to the deck below in a maritime personal injury action. A well-known concept in tort law is that “the economic consequences of product defects should be placed upon those best able to avoid such defects.”

But this case involved a designer who copied another designer’s ladder design. So, “[w]here the design of a product has been copied without consent, knowledge, or participation by the original designer, liability is best imposed upon the copier of the design rather than the entity whose design has been copied.” Since the copier is in the best place to avoid defects and puts the design into use, the copier should be held liable. Whether it is a vessel or a vessel part like the ladder in the above case, part of an attorney’s job is to help trace the design of a faulty vessel or vessel part to its designer and hold them responsible for injuries suffered by their client.

3. Vessel Compliance with Safety Regulations

Different types of vessels have different requirements to satisfy safety rules. From passenger vessels to cargo ships, each vessel has specific safety requirements. For example, OSHA and the U.S. Coast Guard have rules that may affect some vessels but not others. When a vessel fails to meet a safety requirement, it risks causing a maritime accident. While a local fisherman’s boat may not need fire extinguishers, larger vessels require several according to design, model, and purposes. Some vessels are registered under the flags of other countries and have more lenient requirements. In an emergency, the requirement for the number of lifeboats onboard can affect the number of survivors. However, certain countries grant exceptions to vessel owners and allow fewer lifeboats. Ultimately, a vessel’s design should not breach a “shipowner’s duty to provide a seaworthy vessel is an absolute and nondelegable duty which “the owner of a vessel owes to the members of the crew who man her.”

4. Improper Medical Release of Vessel Employees and Third Parties

Texas courts have recognized the existence of duty when the physician was a party to a contract for the patient’s benefit or had taken an active step in treating the patient. When a doctor fails to treat a patient properly, it may be considered a breach of his or her duty. In one case brought before a Houston court, a doctor at Methodist examined Richard Guillory.  The examination revealed an elevated white blood cell count and positive testing for syphilis, but Guillory was pronounced fit for duty onboard a vessel. While on a vessel, Guillory began experiencing severe pain and eventually died as a result. Although this case was remanded, there are cases in which vessel owners, managers, and supervisors are not at fault and the maritime accident results from a third party.

5. Negligent Hiring of Crewmembers and Other Workers

Another common cause of maritime accidents on vessels is human error. Who is liable when an employee or worker is responsible for an accident depends on various factors. For example, a defendant may become liable for the negligence of independent contractors that it hires if they lack requisite training or education. In cases extending liability to defendants who hire independent contractors, the defendant’s duty comes from the control the defendant has over the details of the work from which the injury arises. This may expand a potential defendant vessel owner and manager’s liability to independent contractors who were negligently hired.

Vessels also often employ a wide range of individuals. Some workers have trained abroad and speak different languages, adding another potential barrier to communication on a vessel. In one case, a college intern was working onboard a vessel and argued that the actions of a captain so severely injured him that he suffered damage that would last well into his seventies.

Although there are many causes of maritime accidents, there is a corresponding legal remedy in many cases. The complexity of maritime law and personal injury cases calls for an attorney who can investigate your case and apply the law to help protect an injured party.

Contact Our Top-Rated Maritime Lawyers for a Free Consultation

The personal injury lawyers in Houston, TX, have experience with maritime law cases of all kinds.  They are members of the Maritime Law Association, the largest and most prestigious group of maritime injury lawyers in the United States.  They are former partners at prestigious law firms, where corporations paid millions for them to handle bet-the-company cases.  They bring that experience to bear for injured individuals and their families.

Morrow & Sheppard LLP provides free and confidential consultations to all injured maritime workers and their families around the country, emphasizing Texas and Louisiana, including those located in Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth, Corpus Christi, Beaumont, Port Arthur, Lafayette, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, New Iberia, Lake Charles, Slidell and the surrounding communities. Contact our office today for a free, confidential consultation to discuss your legal rights before a corporation, employer, or insurance company jeopardizes them.

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