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Dungeness Crab Wrongful Death Cases

Is the West Coast Dungeness Crab Fishery the Most Dangerous Job in the World?

The Alaskan King crab commercial fishing industry has the reputation as one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. However, statistics published by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) show that the commercial Dungeness crab fishing industry on the West Coast has more than twice as many fatalities as the Alaska King Crab fishery. According to data published by the CDC, there were 25 deaths in the West Coast Dungeness crab fishery from 2000 to 2009 as compared with 12 in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Island crab fishery. The rate of deaths in the West Coast Dungeness crab fishery is 310 deaths per 100,000 full-time employees. In its analysis, the CDC concluded that the data illustrated that occupational risk factors varied by region and fishery. The data clearly demonstrates that the West Coast Dungeness Crab Fishery is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.

The ports of Neah Bay, Westport, Astoria, Newport, Coos Bay, Port Orford, and Brookings, are homes to the Dungeness Crab fishing fleets. Despite these alarming statistics, little attention is being focused on deaths in the Dungeness Crab fishing industry along the Washington and Oregon coasts. The smaller fishing boats used for fishing Dungeness crab, salmon, halibut, albacore tuna, pacific whiting, pink shrimp, and ground fish (lingcod, rockfish, and sole) along the Washington and Oregon coasts, are more vulnerable to sinking and capsizing than larger fishing vessels and don’t have the safety programs of larger commercial fishing vessels. Moreover, the smaller crews do not draw the media attention that disasters on larger fishing vessels attract when vessels sink in the Bering Sea. Most of the deaths in the Dungeness Crab fishing industry were caused by a vessel disaster such as a sinking or falls overboard. With limited regulation of fishing vessel safety and budget cuts making oversight more difficult, there is concern that the alarming number of deaths will continue.

Jones Act Benefits for Wrongful Death.

When a death occurs in commercial fishing, it is important that the family of the fisherman understands the benefits available under the Jones Act and general maritime law. These deaths are not covered by traditional land-based workers’ compensation programs and the special expertise of a maritime injury lawyer is usually required to obtain maximum compensation for the family.

Under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. §30104, the family of a deceased fisherman has a cause of action for wrongful death. The Jones Act is the exclusive remedy for deaths caused by the negligence of a fisherman’s employer or other crew members on the vessel. A lawsuit must be brought by the personal representative of the fisherman’s estate within three years of the death for the benefit of the (1) surviving spouse and children; (2) parents; and (3) dependent next of kin. 45 U.S.C. §59. While a lawsuit must be filed within three years, it is vital in most of these cases to take early action to conduct a prompt and complete investigation of the facts surrounding the death. Other types of causes of action exist when the death is caused by some third-party who is not the fisherman’s employer or another crew member.

The Jones Act provides that the personal representative may collect damages for pecuniary losses and damages for pre-death pain and suffering. Pecuniary losses include loss of support, loss of nurture and guidance to minor children, and loss of service to a surviving spouse. Recent cases further support awards for loss of consortium to a surviving spouse. The damages available to the children and family will depend on the specific circumstances of the death and the types of support given to the family when the fisherman was alive.

Experienced Maritime Wrongful Death and Injury Lawyers

For decades, our lawyers have fought hard for the families of fishermen who die at sea due to unsafe conditions on fishing vessels. Our lawyers have more than 65 years of experience in maritime personal injury and wrongful death litigation. We have seen first-hand the needless grief, loss, and hardship caused when sound safety policies are not followed and when profits are put ahead of the crew’s safety. We have traveled throughout the Northwest to meet with families and offer sound legal advice in the wake of tragedy. It is our highest honor to represent these hard-working families and their children. We offer a free consultation to family members seeking legal advice following the death of a commercial fisherman and can offer straight-forward answers to your questions without obligation.