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Common Causes of Maritime Accidents

From the decks of commercial fishing vessels to the bridges of cargo ships, nearly 400,000 people work in various maritime sectors in the U.S. These jobs pose a greater likelihood of fatalities, injuries, and illnesses compared to other U.S. employment sectors.

Commercial fishing, in particular, is often cited as among the most dangerous jobs in the country. The water transportation sector alone has a mortality rate that is 4.7 times greater than the average for all workers in the U.S. Risks are inherent not only on the water but also within shore-based facilities like shipyards and marine terminals.

The Port of Houston alone employs 56,113 maritime workers. As one of the busiest ports in the United States, incidents are bound to happen more frequently than in less trafficked areas. Weather conditions, traffic volume, heavy machinery, and the effectiveness of safety measures in place all contribute to an environment where accidents can and do occur.

The repercussions of these severe accidents extend deeply into the lives of workers and their families, encompassing both physical and emotional dimensions. Physical injuries may result in lasting disabilities, hindering work and daily life, while the financial burden of lost wages and medical bills weighs heavily on families. Moreover, the emotional and psychological impact, including stress, anxiety, and potential long-term trauma, profoundly affects both the injured and their loved ones.

A Houston maritime accident lawyer can be instrumental in navigating the aftermath of such incidents. At Johnson Garcia, we offer specialized knowledge in maritime law, including the Jones Act, Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, and other relevant legislation. Our expertise allows us to effectively advocate for the rights of injured maritime workers and their families, helping to secure compensation for medical costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

Common Causes of Maritime Accidents

Call us today at 832-844-6700 for a free case evaluation with an experienced Houston work injury lawyer.

What Are the Common Causes of Maritime Accidents?

Common causes of maritime accidents encompass a range of factors, each contributing to the complexity and danger associated with maritime operations. These causes include:


These accidents often happen due to wet, slippery surfaces, unexpected obstacles, or inadequate maintenance on ships and offshore platforms. When someone experiences a slip-and-fall, the injuries can be unexpectedly severe.

For example, a fall might result in a complex fracture that requires surgery, possibly multiple surgeries, and extensive physical therapy. In more serious cases, there could be spinal injuries that lead to temporary or permanent mobility issues, necessitating long-term medical care and rehabilitation services.

Heavy Machinery and Welding Accidents

Heavy machinery and welding accidents in the maritime industry often stem from using large equipment and conducting intense welding in confined or hazardous spaces. The risk of accidents escalates when safety protocols are neglected, or equipment is poorly maintained.

Injuries from heavy machinery and welding accidents can range from burns and lacerations to more severe outcomes, such as crushed limbs or blindness, depending on the nature of the accident and the safety measures in place at the time. The immediate impact of such injuries is often significant, requiring emergency medical attention, and may lead to long-term or permanent disabilities.

Fire and Explosions

Fire and Explosions in the maritime industry are particularly devastating due to the confined spaces on vessels and the presence of flammable materials or gasses. These incidents can occur from mechanical failures, electrical faults, or during maintenance and welding operations not conducted under strict safety standards. The rapid spread of fire or the immediate impact of an explosion on a ship poses a severe risk to all aboard.

The injuries resulting from fire and explosions can be extensive, ranging from severe burns, which may require extensive medical treatment, including skin grafts and long-term rehabilitation, to respiratory injuries from inhaling smoke or toxic fumes. In some cases, these incidents can lead to fatalities or cause psychological trauma to survivors.

Overloading and Improper Storage

Overloading and improper storage in maritime operations, involving excess weight or poorly secured cargo, compromise vessel stability and maneuverability. This can lead to capsizing, particularly in rough weather or during sharp turns. Additionally, incorrect cargo placement can shift a vessel’s center of gravity, worsening stability problems and potentially blocking emergency exits and equipment.

The injuries resulting from accidents caused by overloading and improper storage can vary from minor to fatal, depending on the severity of the incident. For example, a capsize or serious list might lead to crew and passengers being thrown around, leading to broken bones, concussions, or even being trapped under cargo. In more severe cases, such situations can lead to drowning if individuals are unable to escape a sinking or capsized vessel.

Improper Training and Human Error

Improper or insufficient training leaves crew members unprepared for the complexities of maritime operations and emergency situations, directly leading to human errors such as misjudging navigational paths, mishandling equipment, or failing to execute safety protocols correctly.

The injuries resulting from accidents caused by improper training and human error can be as varied as the types of incidents themselves, from minor cuts and bruises to severe, life-threatening injuries or even fatalities. For instance, a navigation error due to inadequate training in using navigational tools can lead to a collision, while mishandling of machinery can result in crush injuries or amputations.

Improper Maintenance of Machinery and Equipment

Neglecting regular checks, repairs, and updates necessary to keep machinery operating safely and efficiently can lead to critical failures of essential systems such as engines, steering mechanisms, or safety equipment— all of which are vital for the safe operation of the vessel. The consequences of failing to properly maintain machinery and equipment can be severe, increasing the risk of accidents at sea.

The types of injuries resulting from these failures can range from minor to severe. For instance, a malfunctioning winch could cause crush injuries or amputations among crew members handling cargo. Similarly, engine failures could strand a vessel, exposing everyone on board to the risks of severe weather or delaying rescue in emergencies.

Prolonged Exposure to Toxic Materials

Handling hazardous cargo, working in environments with poor ventilation where toxic substances are present, or during ship maintenance and repair activities can expose maritime workers to dangerous chemicals and materials. Shipyard workers, seafarers, and offshore workers are particularly at risk.

Significant health issues can arise from such exposure, including life-threatening conditions like mesothelioma, a cancer affecting the lining of the lungs commonly associated with asbestos exposure. Another severe condition is neurotoxicity, which can cause permanent damage to neurons, leading to cognitive and motor function impairments, often resulting from exposure to heavy metals or organic solvents.

The dangers of prolonged exposure are not always immediately apparent, as symptoms can take years to manifest, making these conditions particularly insidious. Once diagnosed, treatments for conditions like mesothelioma can be extensive and expensive, often involving surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, with a significant impact on the quality of life.

Falling Overboard

Falling overboard in the maritime industry is a grave incident that poses an immediate danger to the individual’s life, primarily due to the risk of drowning, hypothermia in cold waters, or injuries from the fall itself. This type of accident can occur due to a lack of proper safety measures, such as inadequate railing or safety gear, slippery decks, or severe weather conditions that make the vessel’s deck more hazardous.

The immediate aftermath of falling overboard requires urgent rescue efforts to prevent drowning, but even if rescued, the individual may suffer from long-term health issues such as complications from hypothermia, physical injuries from the impact of the water, or psychological trauma from the experience.

Severe Weather

Severe weather significantly threatens maritime operations, risking accidents and injuries. Storms, high winds, and rough seas can compromise vessel stability, causing capsizing, collisions, or groundings. Vessels must be well-prepared, and crews must be expertly trained in emergency procedures to navigate these unpredictable conditions safely.

The injuries resulting from severe weather incidents can range from minor bruises and cuts to severe, life-threatening conditions if individuals are thrown against structures, fall overboard, or if the vessel is severely damaged. The psychological impact of surviving such harrowing conditions can also be profound, leading to long-term mental health issues like PTSD.

Accidents in maritime settings are taken seriously. The unique aspects of maritime law, such as the Jones Act for seamen and other relevant laws, play a crucial role in determining the compensation and protections available to injured maritime workers.

Many mariners may seek recovery for injuries related to. This can also include compensation for pain and suffering that recognizes the emotional and physical distress caused by the accident. Costs for rehabilitation and any necessary modifications to accommodate disabilities resulting from the accident are also recoverable. This approach aims to ensure comprehensive coverage for the victim’s financial, physical, and emotional recovery.

How Can Maritime Collisions Lead to Maritime Injuries?

In the context of maritime collisions, negligence often involves a failure to act responsibly or to take the necessary precautions to avoid an incident. These failures can stem from individual actions, such as a crew member or captain not performing their duties correctly, or systemic issues, such as a shipping company not enforcing strict safety protocols or failing to provide adequate training for its staff.

Maritime collisions can often lead to injuries due to the following factors:

  • Failure in Navigation and Lookout. Negligence in the form of inadequate navigation practices, such as ignoring maritime traffic rules, poor planning, or failing to maintain a proper lookout, can lead directly to collisions. This includes not properly monitoring radar systems or ignoring the Automatic Identification System (AIS), which is crucial for avoiding other vessels.
  • Miscommunication. Miscommunication between vessels or within the crew can result in misunderstandings about intentions, routes, and maneuvers, leading to collisions. This includes failing to signal intentions clearly or misunderstanding signals from other vessels.
  • Poor Decision-Making. Negligent decision-making by the captain or navigational officers, such as choosing to navigate in hazardous conditions without proper precautions or misjudging the distance and speed of oncoming vessels, can cause collisions.
  • Equipment Failure Due to Negligence. Collisions can also result from failing to maintain and check the operational status of critical equipment like the steering gear or propulsion systems. Negligence in regular maintenance and checks can lead to sudden failures that prevent a vessel from maneuvering to avoid a collision.
  • Violation of Maritime Laws and Regulations. Ignoring or violating maritime laws and regulations, such as speed restrictions, right-of-way rules, and safe distance guidelines, is a form of negligence that can lead to collisions. These regulations are designed to prevent collisions and ensure safe navigation.
  • Inadequate Crew Training and Fatigue. Negligence in ensuring the crew is adequately trained to respond to navigation and collision avoidance situations can lead to accidents. Similarly, overworking the crew can cause fatigue, reducing alertness and the ability to react appropriately to avoid collisions.

How Can Maritime Accidents be Prevented?

Preventing maritime accidents involves a comprehensive approach that encompasses strict adherence to international regulations, rigorous training, and the implementation of advanced technology. Here are key strategies for preventing maritime accidents:

  • Strict Adherence to International Maritime Regulations. Following the guidelines and regulations set by international bodies, such as the International Maritime Organization (IMO), is fundamental. These regulations cover everything from vessel design and maintenance to crew training and operational procedures, including the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW).
  • Regular Maintenance and Safety Checks. Regularly maintaining and conducting safety checks on all vessel systems, including navigation, propulsion, communication, and life-saving equipment, is crucial to ensure they are functioning correctly and can prevent accidents related to equipment failure.
  • Advanced Navigation and Communication Technologies. Utilizing advanced navigation and communication technologies can significantly reduce the risk of collisions and groundings. Technologies like Automatic Identification Systems (AIS), Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems (ECDIS), radar, and GPS help in accurately determining the vessel’s position and the positions of nearby obstacles or vessels.
  • Effective Crew Training and Drills. Providing comprehensive training for all crew members on safety procedures, emergency response, and the use of life-saving equipment is essential. Regular drills should be conducted to ensure the crew is prepared for emergencies, including fire, collisions, and abandon ship scenarios.
  • Proper Cargo Loading and Stowage. Ensuring cargo is properly loaded and secured can prevent accidents related to cargo shifting, which can affect a vessel’s stability and seaworthiness.
  • Adequate Crew Rest and Fatigue Management. Implementing policies to manage crew fatigue, including adherence to work/rest hour regulations, is essential for ensuring that crew members remain alert and capable of performing their duties effectively.
  • Environmental Consideration and Planning. Taking into account environmental factors such as weather conditions, tidal currents, and visibility when planning voyages can help in avoiding accidents.
  • Risk Assessment and Management. Conducting regular risk assessments and implementing a safety management system (SMS) as part of the ship’s operations can help identify potential hazards and implement preventive measures to reduce the risk of accidents.

How Can the Houston Maritime Accident Lawyers at Johnson Garcia Help?

Each maritime accident case is unique, and the types of compensation awarded will depend on the specifics of the accident, the extent of the injuries, and the applicable laws. At Johnson Garcia, our goal is to fight for compensation that will restore you to the financial position you would have been in had the accident not occurred and to provide for your physical and emotional recovery as much as possible.

With over 35 years of experience, our Houston maritime accident lawyers are well-equipped to evaluate and investigate each case, leveraging our experience to navigate through complex legal processes. Whether it’s negotiating with insurance companies or representing you in court, we’ve got your back. From the initial consultation to litigation, rest assured you will be well-represented every step of the way.

When maritime mishaps leave you adrift, Johnson Garcia throws the lifeline you need. Call us at 832-844-6700 or contact us online to embark on your journey towards recovery and justice with a free consultation.

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