When Do You Need A Maritime Lawyer for An Offshore Injury or Death?

Feb 1, 2024 | Boating Accidents

Maritime accidents happen far more often than they should. From accidents onboard cruise ships to falls overboard, and from commercial fishing and drilling accidents to accidents involving recreational vessels, all types of offshore accidents can present risks for serious or fatal injuries.

Many of these accidents result from maritime negligence. Employees and owners of businesses and vessels regularly make mistakes that put crew members and passengers in danger. When these mistakes lead to serious injuries and fatalities, those who are responsible can—and should—be held accountable by an experienced maritime lawyer.

When Can You File a Claim for Maritime Negligence with A Maritime Lawyer?

Passengers, crew members, and their families can file claims for maritime negligence in a wide range of circumstances. While the laws that govern passenger claims and crew member claims are different, all victims and families can generally pursue claims for the same types of negligence. This includes common causes of serious and fatal offshore accidents such as:

Inadequate Vessel Cleaning, Maintenance, or Repairs

Inadequate cleaning, maintenance, and repairs are common causes of many types of offshore accidents. This includes everything from slip-and-fall accidents onboard cruise ships to electric winch malfunctions, engine room fires, and other equipment-related issues on commercial vessels. Offshore vessels require constant maintenance and professional repairs—and this can be incredibly expensive. However, the costs involved in operating a vessel offshore are not an excuse for putting passengers or crew members’ safety at risk. Companies and vessel owners need to maintain their vessels in seaworthy condition; and, if they can’t, they need to keep their vessels at port until they are safe for traveling offshore.

Inadequate Safety Equipment, Systems, and Practices

Under federal law and U.S. Coast Guard rules, all vessels traveling offshore must have adequate safety equipment onboard. Regardless of these requirements, companies and vessel owners must ensure that they have adequate safety equipment, systems, and practices in place to keep their passengers and crew members safe. Yet, inadequate safety measures are commonplace, with some of the most common failures including:

  • An insufficient number of life jackets
  • Life jackets that are not rated for offshore use
  • Insufficient lifeboats or life rafts
  • Expired life jackets or life rafts
  • Failure to follow appropriate offshore safety protocols (i.e., offshore diving safety protocols)
  • Failure to properly secure safety equipment and other items onboard
  • Employing crew who are inexperienced in man overboard (MOB) retrieval

These are just examples. Protecting passengers and crew members offshore requires a comprehensive approach to safety. Failing to equip a vessel with any necessary safety equipment or failing to follow any necessary safety procedures can put everyone on board at risk unnecessarily.

Inadequate Security or Supervision

Inadequate security and supervision are safety risks on cruise ships, charters, and other commercial vessels. Inadequate security can leave passengers and crew members at risk for physical and sexual assaults, while inadequate supervision can lead to accidents involving onboard swimming pools, climbing walls, roller coasters, surfing waves, and other onboard amenities. Companies’ and vessel owners’ obligations to protect passengers and crew members’ safety at sea extend beyond ensuring that their vessels are seaworthy. They must adequately address all risks onboard—and, if they fail to do so, they can be held liable for the consequences of their failure.

Negligent Vessel Operation

Offshore accidents can also result from negligence at the helm. When taking vessels offshore, captains must be fully capable of protecting the safety of everyone onboard. They must also exercise their capabilities—remaining focused on the task at hand and operating the vessel safely from port to port.
But, whether due to inexperience, carelessness, distraction, or intoxication, negligent operation is a common cause of offshore injuries and fatalities. This includes forms of negligence such as:

  • Taking vessels into dangerous seas or storm conditions
  • Going too fast for the conditions or surrounding vessel traffic
  • Failing to identify hazards in the water
  • Turning too fast, too slow, or too late
  • Colliding with pontoons, docks, or other vessels

These, too, are just examples. Safely operating a vessel of any size requires substantial experience, a thorough understanding of the conditions and risks, and a careful focus on the task at hand. Even minor mistakes can have life-altering or life-threatening consequences, and captains (and their employers) must ensure that they do not cause injuries or fatalities while operating offshore.

Negligent Rescue Operations

When a passenger or crew member falls overboard; when a vessel collides with a dock, vessel, or person in the water; when a vessel catches fire or starts taking on water; or when any other life-threatening situation arises offshore, the operator of the vessel must protect the life of those involved by all available means. Vessels in the surrounding area may have a duty to render assistance as well. Unfortunately, negligent rescue operations are yet another common cause of injuries and fatalities offshore.
Maritime negligence during rescue operations can also take many different forms. These include failing to initiate a timely search and rescue effort, failing to render adequate assistance, and calling off search and rescue efforts too soon—among others. Sadly, these failures often have tragic consequences, and they leave grieving family members struggling to understand why more wasn’t done to save their loved one.

Medical Malpractice at Sea

Another common cause of offshore injuries and fatalities is medical malpractice at sea. Just like doctors on land, doctors in cruise ship infirmaries and ship doctors on commercial vessels have to meet a certain standard of care. If they fail to meet this standard—and if a patient suffers unnecessary harm or loses his or her life as a result—they (and their employers) can be held liable for malpractice. While doctors who work on vessels offshore may have access to all of the same diagnostic tools and medical equipment as doctors who work on land, they must still provide an appropriate standard of care based on the resources they have available.

Failing to equip vessels with adequate medical equipment or supplies can expose cruise lines and other vessel owners to liability for maritime negligence as well. Making sure that a vessel is properly equipped is part of ensuring that it is seaworthy. Here, too, while cruise lines and other vessel operators may be tempted to cut costs, attempting to bolster a company’s profits is not an excuse for putting passengers or crew members at risk.

How Do You File a Claim for Maritime Negligence?

If you have a claim for maritime negligence, how do you assert your legal rights?

The specific steps involved in filing a maritime negligence claim vary depending on the type of claim you need to file. However, regardless of what happened, and regardless of whether you (or your loved one) was a passenger or crew member, there are some steps you should try to take as soon as possible. These steps include:

1. Document the Accident to the Extent that You Can

You should try to document the accident to the extent that you can. If you are on the vessel, take photos and videos with your phone. Try to get the names and contact information of anyone who witnessed the accident, and write down as many details as you can remember. If you aren’t able to take these steps, that’s okay, but you should take them if you can do so.

2. Take Care of Yourself to the Best of Your Abilities

It is also important that you take care of yourself to the best of your abilities. If you are on the vessel and the vessel has a doctor onboard, see the doctor for a diagnosis if you haven’t already. If you have already been to the ship’s doctor and have concerns about medical malpractice, you should try to consult with a physician on land, unless an emergency evacuation is necessary.
If you are coping with the loss of a loved one, it is important to take care of yourself in this situation as well. You are going through an extremely difficult time, and this can impact you in various ways. You should not hesitate to seek help if you have concerns or need someone to talk to.

3. Report the Accident, But Then Avoid Speaking with Anyone at the Company that Owns or Operates the Vessel

When dealing with an offshore accident, it is important to report the accident for documentation purposes. But, once you report the accident, you should avoid speaking with anyone at the company that owns or operates the vessel. Instead, you should hire a lawyer to represent you, and you should rely on your lawyer to handle all communications on your behalf.

If you speak with a representative of the company, you will risk making statements that the company can use against you. These are very delicate situations; and, in these situations, companies put their own financial interests first. If you inadvertently say something the company can use to deny
liability, it will not hesitate to do so. This is why it is best to have an experienced lawyer deal with the company’s representatives for you.

4. Document the Financial and Non-Financial Costs of the Accident

In addition to documenting the accident to the extent that you can, you should also begin documenting your financial and non-financial costs. Financial costs include your medical bills (even if they are covered by health insurance), any other out-of-pocket costs, and any loss of income. Non-financial costs include things like pain and suffering, emotional trauma, and loss of enjoyment of life. If you can take notes about how your injuries (or your loved one’s death) impact your life on a day-to-day basis, your lawyer will be able to use this to seek the full financial compensation you deserve.

5. Talk to a Maritime Negligence Lawyer as Soon as Possible

When dealing with the aftermath of a serious or fatal offshore accident, it is important to speak with an experienced maritime negligence lawyer as soon as possible. Along with communicating with the company that owns or operates the vessel on your behalf, there are several other ways that your lawyer will be able to help you as well. This includes everything from helping you understand what to do if you are still on the vessel to taking your case to court if necessary. At Silva & Silva, we have significant experience representing passengers, crew members, and families in maritime negligence cases; and, if you need help, we encourage you to contact us promptly for more information.

Contact the Maritime Negligence Lawyers at Silva & Silva Today

To speak with a maritime negligence lawyer at Silva & Silva, please call 305-445-0011 or tell us how we can reach you online. Your initial consultation is free, and we do not charge any fees or costs unless we help our clients recover just compensation.