The Port of Houston ranks first in the country for international commerce and is the sixth-largest shipping port in the world. It is the busiest U.S. port in terms of foreign tonnage and second busiest in overall tonnage. Houston is also one of the world’s largest centers for manufacturing petrochemicals and plastics. Houston is an international energy capital with more than five thousand energy firms doing business in Houston.
Because The Port of Houston is an international shipping hub, Admiralty and Maritime accidents are frequent and often devastating. While the Port itself does an exceptional job handling the traffic, it cannot eliminate human error. The Houston maritime lawyers at the Merman Law Firm have handled a myriad of Admiralty cases, including Jones Act seamen injured in foreign waters, fatal collisions in the ship channel, and 905(b) claims against shipowners for longshoremen (stevedores) injured by faulty equipment shipboard while loading cargo.
Maritime and Admiralty Law
Maritime law, which includes the Jones Act (for crew members aboard a vessel), Unseaworthiness, 905(b) claims (for longshore workers injured aboard a vessel), general maritime negligence and Death on the High Seas is an ancient and complicated body of law. It traces its origins to the Rules of Oleron (circa 1266) and has many archaic remnants today. It is so unique that it has many Rules of Civil Procedure specific to it that are not shared among any other claims or causes of action. For example, only maritime law allows a ship owner to file a Limitation of Liability which allows the shipowner to fix the venue (the Court) where it wants and attempt to limit its liability to the value of the ship after the accident – which is very powerful in situations where the ship is sitting at the bottom of the ocean and has almost no value.
It is very important to select a lawyer that is familiar with the special procedures unique to admiralty. Our experienced admiralty and maritime lawyers have handled cases throughout the Gulf of Mexico coastal regions of Texas and Louisiana and represented clients from all over the United States. Internationally, our attorneys have represented clients from the Central American countries of Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua.
Time is of the Essence - Call a Houston Maritime Lawyer
If you or a member of your family has been seriously injured or killed as the result of an offshore accident, please speak to a qualified maritime lawyer before talking to your employer or any insurance company or adjuster. If you work on a vessel, boat, barge, tanker, fishing boat, an offshore drilling rig or platform, or any other kind of ship, you may qualify for Jones Act compensation. Working in, on, or near water means you need the specially-trained legal assistance of the maritime lawyers at the Merman Law Firm, P.C.
Some useful information for the injured offshore worker:
- Fill out an accident report or incident paperwork as soon as possible after your injury,
- If your employer gives you any paperwork to sign, have it reviewed by a competent maritime lawyer so you don’t waive your rights to more money,
- Do not give a recorded statement to anyone without first seeking legal counsel, and
- Do not accept the word of a company doctor as to the extent of your injuries, seek out your own doctor for a second opinion.
While the Jones Act provides remedies for injured crew members on a vessel, the general maritime law is the body of law that interprets how the Jones Act gets applied to each case. The importance of this area of the law cannot be overstated and a mastery of it is required to adequately and successfully represent an injured offshore worker. This law is court-made common law as it applies to the maritime context and in maritime cases.
Generally, speaking, the statute of limitations controlling general maritime claims is three years; but, certain circumstances (such as the location of the accident) can shorten your statute of limitations. This is one of the many reasons why it is so important to contact a knowledgeable admiralty and maritime lawyer about your injuries.
Some noteworthy general maritime law aspects involve claims for maintenance and cure, unearned wages, and unseaworthiness of a vessel. General maritime law permits strict liability for product liability claims. It also provides causes of action for wrongful death and negligence for non-seamen injured on navigable waterways. General maritime claims include claims of Jones Act seamen and longshoremen against any responsible third party for negligence causing or contributing to injury or death.
If you have been injured while aboard a vessel either as a crewmember, subcontractor, or passenger involved in maritime activity, contact the experienced maritime lawyers at the Merman Law Firm.
The Jones Act
The Jones Act is a federal law, formerly known as the Merchant Mariners Act, which governs the liability of vessel operators and marine employers for their employee’s work-related injuries. The Jones Act provides remedies to seamen injured while working on a vessel. This law helps courts decide the compensation for seamen's injuries throughout the United States. An injured seaman can recover damages from their maritime employer when the employer or a co-worker's negligence causes an injury.
An injured offshore worker must prove some negligence or fault on the part of the vessel's owners, operators, officers, and/or fellow employees or show a defect in the vessel, its gear, tackle, or equipment.
Some examples of sustainable bases for Jones Act cases are:
- Failing to provide a safe place to work, if the unsafe place is the vessel or if it is another place under the employer's control,
- An unseaworthiness claim may be pursued if the employer is the owner of the vessel, and the injury is caused by an unsafe condition on the vessel,
- A violation of a safety statute causes the injury,
- Failing to provide adequate medical care,
- Negligence of other employees or individuals for which the employer is responsible, including co-workers,
- Failure to rescue or search for a seaman if he jumps or falls overboard,
- The vessel was not reasonably fit for its intended use, not a safe place to work and live,
- The vessel was not equipped with appropriate safety gear and equipment,
- The vessel had unsafe recreation facilities,
- Failure to maintain a competent crew, and
- Dangerous conditions arising during the voyage or created by co-workers.
A maritime employer owes a seaman a higher negligence duty than in the usual employer-employee relationship, and the employer is liable if its breach of that duty contributed to the seaman's injury. Even if the seaman assumed a risk of injury, compensation under the Jones Act is not reduced.
One of the central questions in any maritime injury case is whether the injured party is a seaman since only a seaman can recover under the Jones Act. These offshore workers have an employment-related connection to a vessel in navigation and contribute to the vessel's function or mission.
A seaman under the Jones Act must be a member of the crew of a vessel such as a tanker, freighter, jack-up rig, semi-submersible, towboat, tug, supply boat, crew boat, barge, lay barge, or fishing vessel, or someone assigned to a fleet of vessels by his employer. The vessel must also be in navigation, there must be more or less permanent connection with the ship, and the worker must be aboard naturally and primarily as an aid to navigation. Sometimes, even a person whose work is covered under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act may be treated as a Jones Act seaman. A lawyer can help figure out whether someone is a seaman for purposes of the act. The facts of each particular case must be examined closely by an experienced maritime attorney who will understand the ins and outs of the offshore activity the seaman was engaged at the time of injury.
A Jones Act claim must generally be brought within three years of the injury. The claim can be filed as an admiralty claim either in federal court or state court or as a "law" claim in federal court. A lawyer should decide where to file the claim as this choice can affect the amount of the recovery. If you have been injured on a vessel and would like more information about your rights, then contact our experienced maritime lawyers at the Merman Law Firm.
Maintenance and Cure
Seamen injured in the course and scope of their duties are entitled to Maintenance and Cure. If an employer fails to provide maintenance and cure following an accident, it can be liable for additional damages. While maintenance and cure are required, the payment required to satisfy the statutory duty of the shipowner is typically very low. You need to contact an experienced admiralty lawyer to make sure you are getting what you are entitled to as maintenance and cure.
We Get Results!
Everything we do is aimed at making the process easy for you and maximizing your recovery. We are very proud of our results and our winning percentage in a trial. Mr. Merman’s personal trial record includes tens of millions of dollars in verdicts and hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements. Click here to read about some representative cases we have handled – we have only listed a few cases – because each case is different and we will treat you as an individual.