With programs like the “Deadliest Catch” showing audiences the hazardous conditions that commercial fishing workers endure, it can be easy to wrongly assume that the workers are supposed to assume all of the risks. This is not the case. Yes, the conditions can prove deadly if the seas are just too rough and things get out of hand, but there are safety standards and federal laws designed to utterly minimize the risks. Even as organizations like the CDC identify commercial fishing as, “One of the most dangerous occupations in the United States,” (CDC.gov, 2015) those who employ the workers are not absolved of responsibility.
Consider that, in addition to laws in place for keeping workers and equipment safe, there are also laws that ensure that workers are compensated to the fullest degree if a vessel owner or employer is negligent in their duties.
In other words, although the “terrain” of many commercial fishing boats is hazardous, it does not mean that the vessel owners or those who employ the fishing crews can slack off on boat upkeep, safety systems, training, and more.
In fact, in any commercial fishing accident, one of the first things considered is whether or not negligence was a reason behind the incident. Did the crew have all of the mandatory training or certification? If not, why were they allowed to operate the vessel? This would be negligent on the part of the employer or owner.
Was the vessel seaworthy? This can range from being adequately heated to prevent hypothermia to all of the systems being in topnotch condition. Was the entire vessel inspected for safety and kept fully repaired and maintained? If not, how can this remove liability from the owner or employer? It can’t, and so here too there would be an assumption of negligence.
There are many ways that owners or employers can be determined to be negligent, and when there is negligence, there is liability. The maritime laws such as the Jones Act view such liabilities seriously, and require compensation for those who have been injured (or for the surviving dependents of those killed) in commercial fishing accidents.
Just as any high-risk endeavor requires those involved to understand what they are taking on in terms of responsibility or challenges, the world of commercial fishing requires everyone involved to understand how difficult and dangerous the work can be.
From a simple slip or fall a worker can be gravely injured, lost overboard, or killed. This, however, is not a risk that the commercial fishing worker is supposed to assume as part of the job. There are safety lines and protocols that can be put in place to make a slip and fall just that – a simple fall that will not lead to major injury or threat of death. When a vessel owner or an employer fails to take all of the steps possible to eliminate the major threats, it can be a sign of negligence.
To know what your option are after a commercial fishing accident, you have to speak with a maritime law expert. Sitting down with an experienced maritime lawyer is the surest way to understand your particular situation, what is possible in terms of compensation, and what the next steps must be.
No one should suffer from their work-related injuries – no matter how risky their industry is or was. If you have been harmed in a commercial fishing accident you do have options, and speaking with a maritime lawyer is your best next step.