Working offshore can be exciting, but it can also be dangerous. No matter how many safety precautions you take, accidents and injuries are common — and sometimes fatal. Offshore workers can experience devastating injuries caused by dangerous conditions on offshore platforms, crew boats, jack-up rigs, and tankers, and in the ocean itself. Workers often aren’t sufficiently trained and work long hours with few breaks, making the risk of injury even higher.
When a serious injury occurs in an offshore accident, it can be emotionally and financially devastating for the victim. It can also be hard to determine where to start when it comes to recovering damages from personal injury or wrongful death. A good place to start is to contact an offshore accident lawyer with experience in personal injury and maritime law who can wade through the complex details of your case and help you get the best recovery possible.
Common Causes of Offshore Accidents
Offshore and oilfield accidents are often preventable. They can happen during basket transfers, line handling, vessel collisions, and diving operations. Many accidents are the same as you’d encounter in many workplaces, such as equipment failures and slip-and-falls. But because working offshore is a more high-risk workplace environment, an injury may also result from a fire or explosion.
Despite the big budgets associated with the oil industry, there is sometimes very little training and oversight on an oil rig. This type of employer negligence can result in an unsafe working environment that leads to underqualified employees performing dangerous tasks that they aren’t properly trained for, resulting in serious injury.
Offshore accidents commonly lead to head trauma, spinal injuries, severed limbs, and other serious injuries. These injuries are often specifically caused by:
Oil rig injuries. Workers on oil rigs use complex and cumbersome equipment to drill and perform other tasks. Many workers aren’t properly trained on how to use the needed equipment, which increases the risk of offshore accidents caused by human error.
Deck accidents. The deck of an oil rig can be a chaotic environment where frenzied workers must constantly be on high alert. Workers are surrounded by trip hazards, fall hazards, electrical hazards, crush hazards, and pinch point hazards. They can easily be struck by heavy equipment, slip on wet surfaces, or fall when the sudden lurch of the vessel causes them to lose their balance.
Equipment failure. When equipment on an offshore vessel fails, it can result in a number of severe injuries. Workers can be burned or electrocuted, crushed, and even lose limbs. Operating machinery on an oil rig requires a high level of caution to prevent injuries from occurring.
Fires and explosions. While not common, fires and explosions are some of the most deadly causes of offshore accidents. They can happen as the result of improperly stored fuel, poorly maintained pipelines, or collisions between vessels. When there’s a fire, workers may have to jump off the rig into the ocean — often from a height of at least 100 feet. Even though workers are typically trained in the proper way to jump, the stress of the situation may result in a jump that leads to severe injury or drowning. Accidents caused by fire and injury can lead to life-altering injuries and even the loss of an entire vessel (and the people on it).
Other vessels. Injuries also commonly occur on tugboats and barges. These include falling overboard, tow lines parting, and handling heavy lines. If helicopters are used to transport workers offshore, there’s a risk of injury from a helicopter crash.
When you’ve experienced any type of offshore accident, no matter the cause, it can be physically and emotionally traumatic. You may find yourself trying to heal from your injuries while figuring out how to deal with the loss of a regular and substantial paycheck that supports your family.An FVF Law offshore accident lawyer in Austin, Texas, is here to help you determine the cause of your accident and the best way to get you financially on your feet again.
Damages in an Offshore Accident Case
An offshore accident can be devastating to you and your family. You may have injuries that require extensive and ongoing medical attention and rehabilitation, leading to medical bills that seem to keep piling up. Or a family may have experienced a fatal accident that has caused endless pain and suffering. When you’ve also lost your main source of income, it can feel like you’ll never find relief.
An offshore accident lawyer can help you determine the amount of damages you may be able to recover and negotiate on your behalf to make sure you get the best recovery possible. Depending on your case, you may be eligible for damages that include lost wages, medical expenses, disfigurement, emotional trauma, and pain and suffering.
Your attorney will make sure you have all the needed medical records and documentation to prove tangible costs associated with your injury. They will also show how your loss of wages (both presently and in the future) affects you financially, and make sure any third parties are held responsible for their negligence.
What Factors Can Affect Your Offshore Accident Case?
Offshore accident cases can be complicated. You’ll need to determine who you can legally bring a claim against, how workers’ compensation affects your claim, how much insurance coverage is available, and in which jurisdiction you can bring your lawsuit. There are a variety of factors that can affect your case, especially when you are attempting to show negligence on the part of the employer, including the following:
The amount of risk taken. Working offshore and in oilfields is extremely high risk. The steps you may be required to take to get oil and gas out of the ground may not even be permitted in many other industries. But because of how lucrative the results can be when you hit pockets of oil or gas, you may feel pressured by your employer or other employees to engage in unsafe practices or take bigger risks to get your job done. These practices are often commonplace. However, in order to lessen the perception of their negligence, your employer may try to show that you didn’t have to engage in those high-risk behaviors.
Lack of oversight. There is often no engineering oversight on a rig, meaning equipment and structures are makeshift and assembled by people who learned from experience rather than official training. When you are doing things like drilling or running high-pressure fracking lines on the fly without technical guidance, accidents are bound to happen.
Insufficient training. Employees often use machinery on an oil rig without any training, which can result in injury. They may also be performing tasks that are way outside of their regular duties, such as acting as fire crew, which can put all other employees at risk as well.
Sleep deprivation. The average offshore worker works at least 12 hours a day for weeks on end — and is often woken up in the middle of the night to receive or unload a ship. Even when there’s a night crew, there may be a need for extra crew on deck. Because of the amount of profit that may be lost when there’s a delay, many employers want employees to go as fast and far as they can, which often means little sleep and more room for error.
How much insurance will pay out. Most oil companies are self-insured up to a point. After that, they have an insurance company pay out the rest. Insurance companies may try to adjust their portion of the claim or make sure the oil company attempts to settle the claim reasonably so they don’t have to pay out any money.
Oil companies often take shortcuts when it comes to operation of oil rigs because it can be less expensive than making sure employees are properly trained to do things the right way. While this may be the standard in the industry, it can lead to many preventable injuries.
How an Offshore Accident Lawyer Can Help
As a tactic to avoid paying out damages, it’s common for employers to deny that they are responsible for any injuries to their employees on an offshore rig or oilfield. Instead, they usually attempt to pass the buck onto their employees and claim that it was their actions alone that caused the offshore accident. They may claim that the employee had a right to speak out and stop the entire rig in its tracks if they saw something unsafe or needed more time to sleep. Some employers may even attempt to retaliate against employees who bring a suit by making it more difficult for them to find other jobs in the industry.
Because of all this, it can be difficult to decide if you want to pursue a lawsuit, especially if you fear that you’ll be blamed for the offshore accident or blacklisted from the industry. An offshore accident lawyer will help ensure that this doesn’t happen and that the facts of your injury are brought to the surface. A lawyer experienced in offshore accidents knows how to detect these types of tactics and make sure evidence doesn’t get skewed to fit the employer’s version of events. They can also help you round up witnesses to the offshore accident and get statements that show your side of the story.
Offshore accident attorneys are also intimately familiar with maritime law, which was created to help protect workers in the event of injuries, accidents, and illnesses. Maritime law only protects people who work offshore, and specific requirements must be met to recover in an action under the law. An experienced attorney will know how to make maritime law, and any other laws that apply, work in your favor.
Pursue a Claim for Maximum Compensation Following an Offshore Injury
The Jones Act, which is a federal law, allows seamen to pursue compensation if they are injured due to the negligence of an employer, an unseaworthy vessel, or a combination thereof. In Jones Act cases arising from an employer’s alleged act of negligence, the plaintiff must be able to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the employer owed the employee a duty of care, that the employer breached the duty, that the employee suffered damages, and that the employer’s breach of duty was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s offshore injury. If successful, the plaintiff may be able to receive payment for past and future medical bills, lost earnings, pain and suffering, and other damages.
By contrast, an offshore injury case pursued under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act does not necessarily require that the injured worker prove that their employer was negligent or otherwise at fault for the accident. However, as is the case in most workers’ compensation cases, the employee is only entitled to limited compensation, typically in the form of temporary total disability payments, medical expenses, and, in cases involving a permanent injury, compensation for permanent partial disability or permanent total disability. Workers’ compensation claims do not allow an injured worker to recover compensation for pain and suffering, nor is the worker’s spouse entitled to file a claim for loss of consortium.
As in other types of personal injury cases, there is a limited time for filing a claim for compensation following an offshore injury. In addition to the statute of limitations, there may also be a requirement that the injured worker give their employer notice of the accident within a certain time frame. It is important that a person who has suffered an offshore injury consult an attorney to determine the exact time limits applicable under the facts of their case. A failure to promptly file a claim or a failure to give notice in a timely fashion may result in the dismissal of an otherwise valid offshore injury claim. A delay in consulting counsel may also result in spoliation of evidence, since the responsible party or their insurance company may not preserve evidence favorable to the injured person.