Navigating the Legal Requirements for Seamen

Offshore-AccidentsThe Merchant Marine Act of 1920, often called the Jones Act, was instituted to provide a framework within which seamen could claim financial compensation from their employers for injuries that were sustained directly as a result of the negligence of the ship’s captain, its owners or other crew members. These added protections were intended to provide a safer and more seaworthy working environment for sailors who otherwise had little or no recourse against unsafe vessels and incompetent owners and ship captains. Jones Act attorneys specialize in providing support for seamen in pursuing compensation for their claims. To receive these protections, however, sailors must first demonstrate that they meet the criteria necessary to qualify as seamen under the provisions of the Jones Act.

What Defines a Seaman?

Although all seamen are sailors, not all sailors can be called seamen under the Jones Act. Seamen must meet the following requirements:

  • They must serve on a vessel that is currently afloat, in operating condition, capable of moving from its current spot and located in navigable waters. Note that the vessel does not have to be currently in motion; it must simply be capable of moving if the need arose. Navigable waters may be interpreted to mean open waters or may specifically require a channel or available avenue that leads to the sea or other large body of water.
  • The seaman must perform useful work aboard the vessel.
  • At least 30 percent of the seaman’s time must be spent aboard a qualifying vessel or vessels in the performance of useful duties.

Each of these criteria can be interpreted differently. Maritime law firms specialize in representing injury cases and providing help for sailors in determining whether or not they might be eligible for compensation for losses and injuries incurred in the course of their regular duties.

No Clear Consensus

A recent case that is currently being considered for deliberation by the U.S. Supreme Court highlights the difficulties inherent in determining whether a particular worker qualifies as a seaman under Jones Act law. William Smith Dize was a boat captain in the Chesapeake Bay area. While he did not spend 30 percent of his time on board his vessel, Dize spent most of his remaining work hours at work maintaining the boat and performing tasks on the docks. In 2008, Dize was diagnosed with silicosis, a respiratory illness that results from breathing in silica dust. It is believed that Dize contracted this condition while sandblasting the exterior surface of a boat during his regular duties. Dize sued his employer for compensation prior to his death in 2012; however, his claim was denied because he was not deemed to be a seaman under the provisions of the Jones Act. If the Supreme Court decides to take up the case, Dize’s widow could potentially collect compensation on behalf of her husband. The case could also set a legal precedent for providing compensation to workers who spend less than 30 percent of their time actually on board their ship but who perform tasks integral to the proper function and operation of these vessels.

Ship workers who have been injured during the course of their duties should consult with a knowledgeable attorney to determine the right course of action in their particular case. Although injured oil rig and refinery workers are usually not eligible for compensation under the Jones Act, they can often benefit by consulting a qualified offshore injury lawyer to pursue their claims and to achieve a fair settlement. These professionals have the experience and expertise necessary to navigate the legal complexities of these cases and to ensure that injured workers receive the compensation to which they are legally entitled.

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Deadly Oklahoma Bus and 18-Wheeler Crash Highlights Safety Issues in Trucking Industry

18-wheeler-truckA recent collision that claimed the lives of four members of a Texas college softball team is still under investigation, but witnesses at the scene reported that an 18-wheeler semi-trailer truck crossed the median on Interstate-35 near Sulphur, Oklahoma, and plowed directly into the side of the bus transporting the young women on the North Central Texas College (NCTC) softball team. Three victims were pronounced dead at the scene of the accident; a fourth died after her arrival at a nearby hospital. Two other team members were seriously injured and were undergoing treatment at area hospitals. While no charges have yet been initiated against the driver of the out-of-control truck, it is likely that the families of those lost in this tragic accident will require the services of a qualified Dallas 18-wheeler accidents attorney to hold the driver and his employer accountable for their deadly negligence.

No Answers from Authorities Yet

Although it is clear that the 18-wheeler truck left its designated lanes of traffic and crossed over the median to strike the bus carrying the NCTC team, many questions remain regarding contributing and causative factors for the crash. The truck continued its forward momentum even after striking the team bus and went off the road completely, leading some experts to question whether driver fatigue played a role in this accident. An Oklahoma Highway Patrol captain on the scene indicated that it took about an hour to locate the semi-trailer truck after the accident. The driver of the truck, 53-year-old Russell Staley, was treated for minor injuries and released from a local hospital. Both drivers were administered toxicology tests to determine if drugs or alcohol could have been a factor in the crash; however, the results of these tests may not be available to investigators for several weeks.

Bigger Trucks Mean Bigger Risks

The size and weight of 18-wheeler trucks can make it much harder to brake quickly. That same bulk can produce catastrophic results when semi-trailer trucks collide with smaller or lighter vehicles. While the drivers of 18-wheeler trucks typically walk away with only minor bumps and bruises, the drivers and passengers in other cars are not usually so lucky. Lost limbs, spinal cord injuries and trauma are typical results of car-vs.-semi accidents and can cause lifelong disabilities for victims of these high-impact crashes. To make matters worse, many truck drivers work extremely long hours with limited break times. This can result in fatigue and inattention on the road that can directly contribute to serious accidents.

Financial Considerations Trump Safety

Although a number of available safety systems and devices are available for installation or retrofitting on existing 18-wheeler trucks, many transportation companies are unwilling to make the necessary investment to implement these features. Inattention and sleep alerting systems can provide drivers with early warning of fatigue symptoms. If installed in all 18-wheelers in the U.S., these devices could potentially save hundreds of lives each year. The failure of trucking companies to implement these alerting systems is generally ascribed to a lack of financial resources or motivation on the part of these corporate entities.

For the victims of these catastrophic accidents, seeking the assistance of a Dallas truck accident lawyer may be the only way to hold trucking companies and drivers accountable for their actions and to gain compensation for injuries and losses. A qualified 18-wheeler accident lawyer can provide advice and guidance in pursuing a fair settlement and applying financial pressure to implement safety systems on their semi-trailer trucks. By making it more costly to manage legal proceedings than it would be to install alerting devices and to enforce safer driving practices, victims and families can make a positive impact that can potentially reduce risks for drivers in Texas and across the U.S.

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Truck Driver Accidents Are A Big Oil Patch Liability

Truck-on-sideUnfortunately in Texas, the oil patch has enjoyed much greater flexibility as it relates to how many hours its truck drivers can work and how much rest they receive prior to driving since the 1960s. That was when industry officials were convincing in their arguments that they required more flexibility than other industries as it related to drivers. However, several companies still bend and outright break these rules, and many workers or surviving members of their family have needed to contact a Houston truck accident attorney as a result.

Ever since the 1960s, there have been efforts to remove or alter these exemptions, but none have come to fruition. One notable effort in 2000 argued that safety on the roads would be improved once drivers received the amount of sleep that they needed to properly operate their vehicles. However, industry-backed lobbyists successfully convinced lawmakers to not alter the laws at that time. Even the National Transportation Safety Board went on record in 2011 that the organization “strongly opposed” these exemptions.

Disturbingly, the most prevalent cause of death for those working in the oil patch is dying from 18 wheeler accidents and other highway crashes as a third of the deaths in this industry take place on the highway. In fact, oil patch workers are nearly 10 times more likely to be killed in transportation accidents related to their work than those in other fields.

Part of the reason that hundreds of workers have died on the roads over the past 10 years is because these exemptions allow drivers in the oil patch to work more hours with less rest. Oftentimes, workers will put in long shifts of 20 or more hours and then have to get on the road. Two-week shifts of 12-hour days are also common in this field, which often result in a state of fatigue that is akin to the amount of impairment suffered by those who are intoxicated. Cargo is often illegally overloaded as well to ensure that the company saves money due to the fewer number of trips that are then necessary to move the load.

This trend increased in the mid-2000s when work shifts increased in length, workers who were inexperienced in this field were hired and aging trucks that were often in disrepair continued to be used, resulting in a fatality rate that was significantly higher than had been the case previously.

In Texas, a state that is home to a tremendous number of fracking sites, road deaths have increased at a disturbing rate ever since oil drilling and fracking experienced a boom here in the late 2000s. The Lone Star State has since taken the nation’s lead in motor vehicle deaths. The number of road accidents has also noticeably increased in areas of the state that surround oil patches.

Unfortunately, it appears that those needing to contact a personal injury attorney for these reasons will only increase in the coming years as drilling on hundreds of thousands of new oil and gas wells is expected to occur during this time period.

Another contributing factor to this expected increase is the fact that fracking will likely be used on the vast majority of these wells. This technique requires significantly more trucks to be used because of the millions of gallons of water that are necessary for this drilling method. Specifically, 1,200 trucks are needed just to get production started, while 350 more are needed every year to keep it going. Five years later, the re-fracking process requires 1,000 more trucks to be used.

It is clear that laws need to be changed, and these companies should at least be held accountable for following the rules that are in place. As long as the status quo remains in place, personal injury attorneys throughout the country will likely need to continue to provide their services to those injured on the road and their loved ones.

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BP Assessed Nearly $18 Billion in Fines for Deepwater Horizon

BP-Rig-ExplosionOn September 4, 2014, Judge Carl J. Barbier of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana ruled that BP must accept primary responsibility for the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill on April 20, 2010. Judge Barbier apportioned the blame for the spill between BP PLC, Transocean Ltd. and Halliburton Energy Service as follows:

  • BP was assigned 67 percent of the responsibility for the oil spill.
  • The judge held Transocean 30 percent accountable.
  • Halliburton escaped significant responsibility for the Deepwater Horizon accident and was apportioned 3 percent of the blame.

BP was singled out for comment by the judge, who stated that the oil company demonstrated a “conscious disregard” for safety requirements during the Deepwater Horizon operation and made “profit-driven decisions” that put workers at risk. For many of those affected by the explosion and spill, working with an experienced offshore injury lawyer can provide the support and legal guidance necessary to reach a fair settlement and to achieve some small measure of closure on this tragic event.

Fines Could Exceed $17 Billion

According to legal experts familiar with the case, BP could be liable for up to $18 billion in additional fines for its negligence in maintaining a safe workplace for its employees and for the environmental damage caused by the Deepwater Horizon explosion and consequent oil spill. BP has already been found criminally liable for manslaughter in the deaths of 11 workers and has pled guilty to federal charges that included obstruction of the Congressional investigation into the spill. Judge Barbier’s ruling was met with approval and applause by environmental groups and businesses in the Gulf Coast area.

Allegations of Gross Negligence

BP has responded to the recent ruling by indicating the company’s intent to file an appeal. Throughout the numerous court proceedings associated with the Deepwater Horizon incident, BP has consistently maintained that it was not “grossly negligent” in maintaining safety on the oil rig. Instead, company representatives have argued for a lower level of responsibility associated with mere negligence. Judge Barbier and claims administrator Patrick Juneau have also been targeted by BP on charges that they are biased against the oil corporation; BP filed a motion on September 2, 2014, to have Juneau removed from his position due to what the firm calls “partisan” bias and adversarial conflicts of interest in the performance of Juneau’s claims administration duties.

Mounting Financial Penalties

Apart from the nearly $18 billion in fines assessed by Judge Barbier, BP still faces a number of lawsuits from businesses, individuals and families negatively affected by the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill. BP is reported to have set aside $43 billion to cover the costs of all fines, penalties and clean-up expenses associated with the accident and has paid over $28 billion to date to mitigate environmental damage and to settle claims. The company is also facing future penalties for violations of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990; these could add up to more than $10 billion in additional costs assessed to BP for the Deepwater Horizon incident.

Many businesses continue to feel the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Working with an oil rig accident attorney can help smaller companies obtain the compensation necessary to maintain their business interests and operations in the Gulf Coast region. Families of those lost or injured in the accident may also benefit from the recent ruling of negligence against BP. Consulting a knowledgeable Jones Act lawyer can offer expert guidance in pursuing compensation claims and in holding negligent oil companies accountable for their failures in protecting workers against catastrophic accidents on the job. This can provide greater financial incentives for improvements in safety systems and procedures to prevent similar workplace disasters in the future.

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Halliburton Settles Gulf Coast Explosion and Oil Spill

BP-Rig-ExplosionHalliburton, the company that was responsible for cementing the Macondo oil well that was the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April 2010, reached a $1.1 billion settlement with thousands of plaintiffs on Tuesday. The money will be placed in a trust and paid out in three installments over a two-year period, much to the approval of every oil rig accident attorney who helped this resolution come to fruition. The U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Louisiana does need to approve the settlement before it is finalized, however.

A number of studies revealed that the cement that Halliburton had mixed and applied to the well should have been sturdier as this would have likely resulted in no spill occurring. However, the organization has stated that it prepared the cement as BP had specified. Halliburton also admitted that it destroyed critical evidence related to the spill in 2013. The disaster resulted in 11 deaths and millions of gallons of oil being released into the Gulf of Mexico and reaching beaches throughout the region. It was the largest offshore oil spill in American history, causing every offshore injury lawyer and Jones Act lawyer to take notice.

This agreement removes Halliburton from liability related to further claims that have or could have been filed by those impacted by the disaster.

Although the company is paying more than $1 billion, it is denying that it played a role in the disaster.

“Halliburton denies all allegations of wrongdoing, fault, noncompliance, liability; denies that it acted improperly in any way; and denies that it caused any damage or loss arising out of, due to, resulting from, or relating in any way to, directly or indirectly to the Deepwater Horizon incident,” according to a statement released by Emily Mir, the company’s spokeswoman.

Halliburton will likely now turn its focus towards closing a competitive gap that exists between it and Schlumberger in Asia and the Middle East. In fact, one of the company’s dual headquarters is located in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; the other is in Houston. The fact that this agreement essentially puts a cap on how much money that Halliburton will need to pay out related to the Deepwater spill also allows the organization to make other plans for money that may have otherwise been needed for the settlement of further legal issues.

Now the focus for many of those involved with this disaster turns towards BP, the British oil and gas company that operated the Macondo oil well. Settlements between a number of plaintiffs and

organizations are expected to come to several times the amount that Halliburton settled for. BP has already paid $28 billion in claims related to the incident, and up to $18 billion more may be awarded in early 2015 when a Federal District Court in New Orleans determines how blame should be assigned between BP, Halliburton and Transocean, the rig owner and organization that Halliburton said neglected to properly test the cement that it provided for the oil well.

Although BP has acknowledged responsibility for the spill, the organization has long stated that other companies should share that responsibility. However, Halliburton has little to worry about from a financial perspective related to next year’s decision, thanks to the settlement that it agreed to on Tuesday.

Geoff Morrell, a senior vice president at BP, released this statement following the announcement of Halliburton’s agreement: “This settlement marks the very first time — despite three years of official investigations and litigation implicating the company — that Halliburton has acknowledged that it played a role in the accident.” However, this statement prompted the response from Halliburton denying that it played a role in the spill.

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