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Commercial Fishing and Shipping Injuries in Puget Sound, Washington

The Puget Sound, located on the northwestern coast of Washington state, is an inlet of the Pacific Ocean and part of the Salish Sea. The commercial fishing and shipping industries contribute significantly to the Puget Sound economy. Major commercial fishing ports in the Puget Sound area are located in Seattle, Bellingham Bay, and Blaine. Salmon, Dungeness crab, and bottomfish are all caught in Puget Sound waters. Major fish processing plants located in Puget Sound include Trident Seafoods and Icicle Seafoods.

Individuals who work on commercial and shipping vessels in Puget Sound are at a much higher risk of injury or death than workers in other industries. Because of the physical dangers, additional legal protection other than traditional workers’ compensation is offered to seamen under the law. There are three primary avenues of recovery for injured seamen: 1) maintenance and cure, 2) the doctrine of unseaworthiness, and 3) the Jones Act.

Maintenance and cure benefits are available to seamen who are injured while working in the service of the vessel. Maintenance refers to a living stipend to cover expenses, like food and rent. Cure refers to all reasonable and necessary medical costs, such as doctor bills, surgery expenses, and medication expenses. The employer is required to pay these expenses even if the injury was the worker’s fault. Additionally, a seaman is entitled to maintenance and cure if an injury exacerbated a pre-existing condition. Maintenance and cure benefits should continue until the worker has reached maximum medical cure. Maximum medical cure means the individual is either fully recovered or no further treatment will improve his or her condition.

The unseaworthiness doctrine under general maritime law states that a vessel owner has a responsibility to ensure that the vessel, its equipment, and crew are in a reasonable state of fitness for its intended use. If an accident occurs on an unseaworthy vessel, the owner will typically be liable for damages, including lost wages, daily living expenses, medical expenses, unearned wages, and more. The owner’s duty to provide a seaworthy vessel is absolute, meaning that they will be liable, whether or not they were aware of the dangerous condition.

The Jones Act is a statutory remedy that allows seamen to file claims against their employer for job-related injuries that were caused by negligence. Employers must provide their crew with a reasonably safe place to work. For example, employers must make sure the vessel’s deck is free of dangerous obstacles, unsecured cargo, or slippery substances. The standard of proof in a Jones Act claim is much lower than other personal injury actions. The seaman only needs to show that the negligence played some part in causing the injuries; the amount of the employer’s responsibility is not relevant.

Kraft Davies Olsson PLLC is a nationally recognized leader in maritime personal industry law. Kraft Davies has significant experience representing Puget Sound seamen 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.