We at Patrick Daniel Law have experienced Houston maritime injury attorneys well-prepared to handle challenging maritime injury cases that other Houston maritime law firms might find too complicated. Houston maritime injury law, also known as admiralty law, has many peculiarities and inconsistencies. Only a skilled maritime injury attorney can identify these inconsistencies; we encounter them in every case that comes to our Houston law office.
Houston maritime workers face challenges in some maritime cases, while they have certain advantages in others. However, it takes a knowledgeable Houston maritime attorney to navigate these complexities. So, whether you’re in Houston, Harris County, Pasadena, Baytown, or the surrounding suburbs, if you’ve suffered a sea-related injury and need a Houston maritime injury attorney, Patrick Daniel Law is here to assist you. Reach out to our Houston maritime lawyers for a FREE consultation.
Maritime Lawyer Patrick Daniel is a respected figure among Houston maritime attorneys, having earned his reputation through 20 years of practicing maritime law in Houston, Texas, and across the Gulf Coast.
Patrick Daniel has handled maritime injury cases from both sides. He has extensive experience in the legal aspects of Houston maritime law and the work carried out at sea by employees of numerous Houston maritime companies.
Below is a brief list of the types of Houston maritime injury cases he has handled in both Texas and other locations:
- Accidents on jack-up rigs
- Deck accidents
- Tugboat accidents
- Oil platform accidents
- Barge accidents
- Commercial fishing accidents
- Cargo ship accidents
- Shipyard accidents If you’ve suffered a maritime injury in Houston similar to those mentioned above and would like a free consultation with our Houston maritime lawyers or want to learn more about our Houston maritime law services, please call (713) 999-6666 or contact us online.
HOUSTON MARITIME LAW
Houston is more than just oil and aerospace. A recent study revealed that Houston, TX, ranks as the No. 2 city in the country for jobs related to maritime activities involving cargo movement between U.S. ports. Only nearby New Orleans has a larger maritime workforce. When considering workers from all Texas ports, Texas becomes the third-ranked state in the U.S. for cargo transportation between American ports.
The Port of Houston includes over 200 private and public terminals, handling more than 8200 seagoing vessels and 215,000 barges annually. Numerous maritime employees call the Houston area their home.
As a result, it’s unsurprising that there is a significant number of maritime injury cases in Houston. Maritime workers who suffer injuries at sea often lack the same resources as land-based workers. They often need to hire a maritime injury lawyer in Houston to safeguard their rights and help them recover losses from their maritime injuries.
HOUSTON MARITIME ATTORNEYS
Houston boasts a substantial number of maritime lawyers who are well-versed in admiralty law (maritime law). However, experience is a crucial factor. As an esteemed maritime injury lawyer, founder Patrick Daniel has handled numerous cases and secured substantial client recoveries.
Nevertheless, excelling in this field requires more than just courtroom skills. Maritime work is demanding, unforgiving, and rugged. Any lawyer in Houston, Texas, aspiring to represent maritime workers must understand the work and the law. This sets Patrick Daniel Law apart from other law firms in Houston, Texas. Patrick Daniel’s roots in Louisiana and two decades of experience litigating maritime cases, including time spent on the other side of the courtroom, set him apart.
Working at sea: A DISTINCT WORLD Houston maritime lawyer Houston houses numerous maritime companies, and while they claim to value their employees and the sacrifices they make, a single slip on a slippery deck or a falling cargo pallet in rough seas can reveal how much or how little they genuinely care.
If you suffer an injury at sea, assuming that your employer will fairly compensate you or cover your medical expenses is unwise. Many Houston maritime lawyers emphasize that the dynamics change drastically when an injury occurs. Additionally, the legal rules differ between maritime employees and land-based workers. Defendants in maritime law cases often exploit the intricacies of maritime law, hoping the injured party is unfamiliar with them.
For instance, Workman’s Compensation doesn’t apply to injuries sustained at sea. However, the federal Jones Act allows maritime workers to sue their employers for compensation. Employers must ensure safe working conditions and maintain their vessels to guarantee safety and seaworthiness.
Maritime law & Admiralty law: ONE AND THE SAME So, what does “maritime” mean? Essentially, maritime pertains to anything connected with the sea. This includes commercial shipping, transportation, and military activities. The laws governing maritime activities are known as admiralty law, a term used interchangeably with maritime law.
It’s important to distinguish maritime law from the Law of the Sea, which encompasses international trade, mineral rights, jurisdiction over coastal waters, treaties, and international relations. Admiralty cases are more localized, involving civil suits, individuals, companies, and their representatives.
Types of Maritime Injuries Claims WHEN TO CONTACT A MARITIME LAWYER The straightforward answer to when to call a lawyer after a sea accident is “as soon as your ship docks in Houston.” If you have access to a cell phone or Wi-Fi service and can make personal calls on board, contact an attorney at your earliest convenience. If your ship permits personal calls, management cannot penalize you for using your time to consult an attorney.
A common mistake some workers make is attempting to appear as a “team player” who avoids stirring up trouble with the threat of a lawsuit. However, protecting an image won’t benefit you in the long run, and there might be significant consequences. Many Houston maritime workers, or former workers who can no longer work due to injuries, wish they had contacted an attorney promptly after their accidents.
Don’t attempt to assess by yourself whether you have a viable case worth pursuing, despite the numerous blogs and websites offering DIY courtroom strategies. It’s wiser to make the prudent choice and consult an attorney. Patrick Daniel has won so many admiralty cases that he can often identify a winnable case within the first few minutes of a FREE consultation. If Patrick Daniel Law takes on your case, the legal fee will be deducted from the final settlement, eliminating any out-of-pocket expenses.
THE MERCHANT MARINE ACT / JONES ACT OF 1920
Once you depart from Houston’s national boundaries, even if you’re a U.S. citizen employed by a U.S.-based company on a U.S.-registered ship, certain laws intended for your protection no longer apply. Fortunately, other laws come into play that restores some of those protections, albeit differently.
The Merchant Marine Act is a comprehensive law encompassing regulations related to maritime commerce in U.S. waters between U.S. ports. Section 27 of the Merchant Marine Act, known as the Jones Act, mandates that commerce between U.S. ports be exclusively transported by American-built vessels. Although the Merchant Marine Act and the Jones Act are often used interchangeably, the Jones Act is a component of the Merchant Marine Act.
The Jones Act also incorporates provisions that center on the rights of maritime workers. These provisions include (among others):
- The vessel’s owner must exercise reasonable care to maintain it for safety and seaworthiness. The owner can be liable if proven negligence leads to an injury.
- Eligible sailors (officially categorized as seamen) who suffer injuries or illnesses at sea can seek appropriate compensation from their employers through lawsuits if necessary. The concept of a vessel’s seaworthiness is crucial, as it can shift a case from one involving the recovery of basic expenses (referred to as maintenance and cure) to one in which all losses suffered by the victim are compensable.
WHAT CONSTITUTES A “SEAMAN?”
The major provisions of the Jones Act pertain to a specific category of worker known as a seaman. This legal recognition is highly significant when filing injury claims. However, no definitive definition of a seaman is provided in either the Jones Act or the Merchant Marine Act.
Legal precedents exist, though, and maritime attorneys on both sides must sift through past cases to determine if the plaintiff qualifies as a seaman. Merely being employed by one of Houston’s many shipping companies and spending time at sea performing that job is needed to be considered a seaman.
Without a legal definition, most maritime lawyers and judges generally concur on the following definition, though it has undergone terminological refinement over the years and remains subject to revision.
“Seamen means an individual (except scientific personnel, a sailing school instructor or sailing school student) engaged or employed in any capacity on board a vessel” (source).
While this definition is concise and more streamlined than its predecessors, the Jones Act introduces a setback by requiring workers to spend at least 30 percent of their time on board a vessel at sea to qualify as seaman. This aspect can lead to prolonged arguments in an admiralty case between opposing sides. Without a comprehensive definition, this often becomes an obstacle in the process.
IF YOU DON’T MEET THE SEAMAN CRITERIA LONGSHORE AND HARBOR WORKERS’ COMPENSATION ACT
Workers who fail to meet the criteria for being classified as a seaman can still pursue compensation under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA). This federal law enables the injured party to seek compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, rehabilitation, and more due to an injury, as well as survivor benefits if the injury results in the worker’s death.
The LHWCA covers dock workers, shipbuilders, and harbor construction workers who sustain injuries within the wharf area of the harbor. The provisions of the LHWCA differ from conventional Workers’ Compensation laws and typically offer slightly better compensation.
BUILDING A NEGLIGENCE CASE
In the absence of the safety net provided by Workers’ Compensation, maritime employees often rely on the provisions of the Jones Act for compensation. Interestingly, maritime workers have a more advantageous system, which underscores the importance of contacting a maritime injury lawyer when an injury occurs.
Leveraging the provisions of the Jones Act, maritime workers can file negligence lawsuits that extend beyond basic maintenance and cure for specific types of injuries. By filing a negligence suit, they can secure a more substantial settlement and are only required to demonstrate that the employer’s negligence contributed in some way to the injury. In other words, negligence doesn’t need to be the sole cause of the injury; even a minor role can be relevant.
Employers might argue that maritime workers must recognize the significant inherent risks of working on a seagoing vessel. However, this doesn’t absolve the employer or ship owner of liability when things go wrong. Employers are expected to construct and maintain ships according to regulations, make necessary repairs, and provide a safe work environment. They must exercise “reasonable care,” anticipate potential hazards, and take measures to mitigate them.
Negligence extends beyond ship maintenance. Sometimes, decisions that subject workers to undue risks must be held accountable. Requiring workers to perform tasks under hazardous sea conditions, bypass safety protocols, undertake tasks for which they haven’t been adequately trained, or deviate from accepted practices related to sea cargo are all behaviors that can be deemed negligent.
TYPES OF MARITIME INJURY CASES Houston maritime law firm
Maritime workers confront situations and endure conditions that would likely terrify most land-based individuals. Although they are generally aware of the hazards they face and have developed ways to manage and minimize the risks, accidents can and do occur.
Among the most common accidents leading to injuries suffered by maritime workers are:
- Slips and falls – The most prevalent cause of injury claims. Wet conditions often lead to slips on stairwells, decks, and crew areas.
- Collisions and impacts – Swinging booms, cranes, dollies, carts, machinery, and unsecured cargo can collide with workers.
- Lifting and carrying mishaps – A tilting deck in rough seas can make lifting heavy objects difficult. Even under optimal conditions, heavy lifting poses risks.
- Illness – Not all claims are injury-related. Sometimes, crew members fall ill due to unsanitary conditions and improper food preparation. While at sea, an injured worker’s only medical option is the onboard medical staff, commonly called the infirmary or sick bay. This resource can be either highly beneficial or pose a risk if the personnel lack adequate training. In severe cases, helicopter transport might be necessary, but weather and sea conditions can influence whether such transport is feasible.
FILING YOUR MARITIME CLAIM – WHAT NOT TO DO
News of a sea-related injury typically spreads rapidly throughout the ship. Keeping such incidents under wraps is nearly impossible. Regardless of the severity or circumstances of the injury, it’s crucial to retain accurate information. Ultimately, you’re responsible for setting the record straight regarding what transpired.
As news of your injury reaches management, they will likely want to speak with you. Be exceptionally cautious about what you say, if anything at all. While you should be polite and cooperative, safeguarding your interests is paramount. Furthermore, never consent to a recorded statement. You cannot be compelled to provide a recorded statement at any stage.
Should you decide to consult a maritime lawyer and file a claim, the compensation you may receive hinges on the extent to which the employer or ship owner is proven negligent. Insurance adjusters and their attorneys are skilled at manipulation, and anything you say before the case reaches court can be manipulated and used against you. Attempting to outsmart an experienced professional is unwise!
Don’t sign documents, accept settlement offers, or provide statements without consulting a maritime attorney.
FILING YOUR MARITIME CLAIM – WHAT TO DO
however, complete an accident report as part of the claims process. The distinction here is that you have control when you’re filling out an accident report. You can take your time to reflect on your answers and establish the facts clearly, without being pressured to answer trick questions.
Collect the names of coworkers or witnesses who witnessed the accident or observed a hazard that might have contributed to your injury.
Immediately contact Daniel Patrick Law in Houston. They will review your case, help you complete the accident report, and assist in summarizing the accident’s details. Based on the confidential information you provide, they can advise whether your case is likely to succeed and estimate the compensation you may be entitled to.
CHANGES UPON ENGAGING A MARITIME ATTORNEY
The concentration of businesses in Houston, particularly within the maritime sector, creates an environment where information circulates rapidly. When a company becomes entangled in a maritime injury lawsuit, other companies in the Houston area take notice.
Both sides involved in a maritime injury case typically prefer to avoid going to court. Many opt for out-of-court settlements. Most do. Often, when a maritime lawyer enters the scene on the victim’s side, the opposing party may suddenly find it advantageous to settle before trial.
The initial “sign here and we’ll settle” offer is often replaced with a more substantial and equitable agreement. Intimidation tactics often diminish; for the most part, they will deal directly with your attorney, leaving you largely undisturbed.
Avoid trying to initiate a maritime injury claim on your own. Maritime law significantly differs from the types of laws you might be familiar with, and it’s continuously evolving. The Merchant Marine Act and the Jones Act have undergone multiple revisions since their inception, and current calls are being made for further revisions and even their repeal.
Frequently Asked Questions About Maritime Law
Q1: What is maritime law? A1: Maritime law, also known as admiralty law, is a distinct legal framework governing activities and issues related to navigable waters, shipping, marine commerce, and seafaring. It encompasses a broad range of matters, including vessel ownership, maritime contracts, personal injuries at sea, and environmental regulations.
Q2: What falls under maritime law? A2: Maritime law covers a wide array of matters, including but not limited to:
- Vessel ownership and registration
- Maritime contracts, including charter parties and bills of lading
- Shipping and cargo disputes
- Personal injury claims for maritime workers
- Maritime insurance
- Pollution and environmental regulations
- Salvage and marine collision cases
Q3: Who does maritime law apply to? A3: Maritime law applies to a diverse group of individuals and entities involved in maritime activities, such as:
- Seafaring workers
- Shipowners, operators, and crew members
- Shipping companies and carriers
- Port operators and terminal operators
- Maritime insurers
- Importers and exporters engaged in maritime commerce
Q4: What is the Jones Act? A4: The Jones Act, formally known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, is a crucial piece of U.S. maritime law. It provides certain legal rights and protections to seafaring workers, also known as seamen, who are injured while working aboard vessels. The Jones Act allows injured seamen to file negligence claims against their employers or shipowners to seek compensation for injuries sustained due to negligence.
Q5: How does the Jones Act differ from Workers’ Compensation? A5: The Jones Act and Workers’ Compensation are distinct legal systems. While Workers’ Compensation provides benefits to injured workers without requiring them to prove negligence, the Jones Act allows seamen to sue their employers for negligence and recover damages for injuries. Under the Jones Act, a seaman must demonstrate that their employer’s negligence played a role in causing the injury.
Q6: What qualifies as a “seaman” under the Jones Act? A6: While the Jones Act doesn’t offer a concrete definition of a seaman, generally, a seaman is an individual who spends a significant portion of their time (usually at least 30%) working aboard a vessel or fleet of vessels in navigable waters. The exact classification may depend on case law and specific circumstances.
Q7: Can I file a maritime injury claim if I’m not a seaman? A7: Yes, maritime workers who don’t meet the criteria of a seaman may still have options. The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) provides compensation to non-seamen workers injured on or near navigable waters. This federal law covers dockworkers, shipbuilders, and others involved in maritime-related activities.
Q8: What is the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA)? A8: The Death on the High Seas Act is a federal statute that provides a legal remedy for wrongful death cases that occur on the high seas, beyond three nautical miles from the U.S. coast. DOHSA allows surviving family members to file claims against parties whose negligence caused the death of a loved one during maritime activities.
Q9: Can I sue my employer under maritime law? A9: Maritime law allows seamen to sue their employers for negligence under the Jones Act. If you’re a seaman and your employer’s negligence contributed to your injury, you have the right to seek compensation through a negligence claim.
Q10: How do I initiate a maritime injury claim? A10: If you’re a seaman and have suffered an injury due to your employer’s negligence, you can initiate a maritime injury claim by consulting an experienced maritime attorney. They will guide you through the process, gather evidence, assess the merits of your case, and help you pursue fair compensation.
Q11: What types of compensation can I seek in a maritime injury case? A11: In a maritime injury case, you can seek various types of compensation, including:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Rehabilitation costs
- Disability benefits
- Wrongful death benefits (if applicable)
Q12: How do maritime law cases typically get resolved? A12: Maritime law cases can be resolved through negotiation, settlement, or litigation. Many cases are settled out of court through negotiations between attorneys representing the injured party and the opposing party. If a fair settlement isn’t reached, the case may proceed to trial, where a judge or jury will make a final determination.
Q13: How do I choose a maritime attorney? A13: When selecting a maritime attorney, consider their experience, expertise in maritime law, and track record in handling similar cases. Look for attorneys who offer a free consultation, allowing you to discuss your case and assess whether they are the right fit for you.
Q14: Can I handle a maritime case on my own? A14: Maritime law is complex and nuanced, requiring a deep understanding of both legal principles and maritime industry practices. Attempting to handle a maritime case on your own can be challenging and risky. Consulting an experienced maritime attorney greatly improves your chances of a successful outcome.
Q15: What should I do if I’ve been injured in a maritime accident? A15: If you’ve been injured in a maritime accident, prioritize your health and safety first. Seek medical attention immediately. If possible, document the scene and gather evidence. Once you’ve received medical care, consult a maritime attorney to discuss the details of your case and explore your legal options.
Please note that this information is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. For personalized guidance on maritime law matters, consult a qualified maritime attorney.
Examples of Maritime Cases – How Does Your Case Compare?
There’s always something new to learn in maritime injury cases, even with the thousands of cases involving Houston-based maritime companies and their employees. Let’s look at some noteworthy cases from around the U.S. that have set important precedents for similar cases in the future.
Case 1: Hoffas v. American Seafoods (2018)
In this case, American Seafoods, the owner of the ship “American Dynasty,” was found negligent for failing to provide a safe work environment for a crane operator. The operator fell while trying to reach a control that should have been more accessible.
His supervisors instructed the worker to operate a mid-ship crane on the trawl deck. Normally, a wireless remote control could be used for the crane, especially during bad weather. However, on the day of the accident, the remote control was unavailable as the chief engineer had taken it out of service to prevent misplacement.
To use the crane, the worker had to climb a ladder to access the control tower. Unfortunately, the ladder did not meet the company’s safety standards, lacking evenly-spaced rungs and a handrail. As a result, the worker fell and sustained a serious knee injury.
The case focused on the ladder’s failure to meet the safety standards outlined by the company. The court awarded a judgment of $900,000 based on this negligence.
Case 2: Mitchell v. Trawler Racer Inc. (1960)
This case reached the U.S. Supreme Court and established a significant precedent for defining seaworthiness and reasonable care standards.
Frank C. Mitchell slipped on a stairway aboard the fishing trawler Racer due to slime on the handrail. He filed a lawsuit based on negligence and the ship’s unseaworthiness. The ship’s owner argued that the crew was unaware of the handrail’s condition, that it was a temporary issue, and that proper maintenance had been conducted.
The jury’s decision favored both parties. Mitchell received standard maintenance and cure benefits for negligence under the Jones Act. However, the jury ruled against unseaworthiness claims.
Mitchell appealed the ruling, contending that the judge had misinstructed the jury about the defendant’s knowledge of the slime. The appeal was initially rejected, but the U.S. Supreme Court eventually overturned the decision.
Associate Justice Potter Stewart’s opinion highlighted that a ship owner’s duty to provide a seaworthy vessel goes beyond reasonable care. It emphasized that even a temporary condition rendering a vessel unseaworthy holds the owner accountable.
Case 3: Gautreaux v. Scurlock Marine Inc. (1995)
Gautreaux, a seaman, suffered severe injuries when a manual crank handle flew off an electric winch, striking him in the eye and face. He had been using the crank to free a stuck winch. Gautreaux sued Scurlock Marine, alleging negligence and failure to ensure a seaworthy vessel. He claimed inadequate training in using the manual crank.
Scurlock argued that Gautreaux had received thorough training, including using the manual winch crank, during his time on the towboat Brooke Lynn where the incident occurred. Scurlock also contended that Gautreaux should have exercised greater personal care for safety.
As per the Jones Act, a seaman must exercise only “slight care” for their safety, while employers must provide a safe working environment. Scurlock’s legal team challenged this interpretation.
Even if contentious, the court upheld the “slight care” provision while acknowledging that higher courts or lawmakers might revise it. The jury attributed 95% fault to Scurlock and 5% to Gautreaux, awarding him $854,000. An appellate judge later adjusted this amount to $736,925.
Experienced Maritime Attorney in Houston
If these case examples seem complex, you’re not alone. Maritime law is intricate and open to diverse interpretations and changes.
For effective resolution of your maritime injury case, look no further than Patrick Daniel Law. With two decades of experience, Patrick Daniel brings a unique perspective, having previously handled maritime injury cases from the defense side. His expertise extends from the courtroom to the negotiating table, making him a formidable advocate for those impacted by maritime injuries.
Patrick Daniel’s connection to the maritime industry runs deep as a Louisiana native familiar with maritime practices. His representation isn’t limited to Houston; he has served clients from various states along the Gulf Coast.
Contact Patrick Daniel Law for a complimentary consultation. Whether your maritime case is strong, we’ll provide honest guidance. We only charge a fee upon successfully winning your maritime injury case. Don’t let evil entities evade their responsibility. The law and Patrick Daniel Law are on your side.