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Ammonia Gas Leaks on Commercial Fishing Processing Vessels

One of the many dangers that commercial fishermen face is ammonia gas leaks. Ammonia refrigeration is used on many commercial fishing vessels, particularly those that freeze or process their catch onboard. It is a very common refrigerant because of its wide availability, simple manufacturing process, and relatively low cost. However, ammonia is a toxic gas, and its use does present hazards. Exposure causes serious and sometimes fatal injuries, including ammonia burns on the eyes and lungs, industrial asthma, blindness, and other pulmonary conditions. In addition, ammonia is flammable and can cause explosions when exposed to high heat.

If you have suffered an injury caused by an ammonia gas leak, it is critical to receive a full evaluation from a qualified pulmonologist. Some ammonia exposure-related injuries develop over time, so you should get an evaluation, even if you don’t consider your symptoms severe. Under maritime law, you have the right to choose your doctor and are not required to consult with the doctor recommended by the commercial fishing or insurance company.

After your medical evaluation, you should reach out to a qualified maritime attorney. You may be entitled to compensation under the law. In almost every case, you will be entitled to maintenance and cure, which includes compensation for medical costs and daily living expenses. All seamen who are injured while working onboard a commercial fishing vessel are entitled to maintenance and cure, no matter who was at fault for the injury.

If the ammonia gas leak was caused by your employer’s negligence, you may be entitled to additional damages under the Jones Act. The Jones Act is a federal law that gives injured seamen the right to sue their employer for negligence. Your employer is required to provide its seamen with a reasonably safe workplace. One example of negligence is improper maintenance. Ammonia refrigeration systems require frequent, routine maintenance, such as the regular draining of oil from the evaporator and replacement of perishable components. Other examples of employer negligence include:

  • Insufficient training in refrigeration engineering and plant-specific operation;
  • Defective or missing gas leakage detection alarms;
  • Inadequate emergency and evacuation procedures;
  • Failure to inspect and test safety equipment; and
  • Insufficient warning signage.

The Jones Act has a very low burden of causation. Your employer’s negligence does not need to be the sole or even primary cause of the ammonia gas leak injury. If the injury was in any way, however small, the fault of your employer, you may be entitled to compensation. There are significant damages available under the Jones Act, such as lost earnings and lost earning capacity, past and future medical expenses, and pain and suffering.

Kraft Davies, PLLC is a nationally recognized leader in maritime personal injury law. Kraft Davies has significant experience representing seamen who have suffered injuries from ammonia gas leaks against vessel owners, maritime employers, and maritime insurance companies. If you or a loved one were injured in a commercial fishing or shipping accident, contact the attorneys at Kraft Davies today at 206-624-8844 or through this website.