Can a company be held responsible if an employee falls off a ship and drowns?
On June 9, the representative of a deceased shipworker filed a complaint alleging wrongful death due to the negligence of Western Rivers Boat Management, Inc. The complaint states that on May 14, the employee was working as a member of the crew of the M/V Miss Courtney when he was discovered to be missing. Four days later, his body was recovered from the Mississippi River, and an autopsy revealed that the cause of death was drowning.
The complaint accuses Western Rivers Boat Management, Inc. of failure to provide an adequate crew, failure to provide proper and adequate personal floatation devices and failure to provide a safe work environment. The employee’s family is seeking all damages deemed reasonable for his wrongful death.
Drowning in the Maritime Industry
Drowning is a major risk for all maritime workers. That includes not only seamen but also longshoremen, harbor workers and oil platform workers. With good training, proper safety gear and adequately crewed vessels, the risk of drowning is minimized, but negligence can easily lead to death. Tragically, most falls overboard turn fatal.
When a worker drowns, the dependents of that worker can seek compensation from the employer under the Jones Act. This includes death benefits like lost wages, funeral costs and potential damages for pain and suffering. For deceased workers not identified as seamen, the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act can provide for the family, without the need to prove negligence.