Jones Act Seaman Injuries from Improper Storage of Cargo
The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, commonly referred to as the Jones Act, is a foundational piece of legislation in the maritime world. Under this act, seamen have the right to seek damages for injuries sustained while working aboard a ship. One of the more underestimated causes of such injuries is the improper storage of cargo, which can pose significant risks to a ship's crew. Understanding the Dangers of Improperly Stored CargoWhen cargo is not stored correctly:
- Shifts and Imbalances: Cargo that moves unexpectedly can destabilize a vessel, leading to capsizing or other maritime mishaps. A cargo shift can also cause severe injuries to seamen onboard if they are struck by moving goods or equipment.
- Tripping Hazards: Loose or improperly stowed cargo can become a tripping hazard on the deck, leading to injuries from falls or being caught between objects.
- Chemical Spills and Exposure: Containers holding hazardous materials, if not stored securely, can rupture or spill, exposing crew members to toxic or flammable substances.
- Fires: Combustible goods, if not correctly stowed away from ignition sources, can lead to fires onboard, which are particularly challenging to manage at sea.
- Injuries Removing Improperly Stowed Cargo: Crew members can sustain injuries attempting to remove cargo from areas of the vessel where it is difficult to access and best lifting practices cannot be followed due to the limited space available to remove the cargo.
Under the Jones Act, employers have a duty to provide seamen with a reasonably safe work environment. If a seaman is injured due to improperly stored cargo, the employer can be held liable for negligence if they did not maintain safe conditions or failed to provide adequate training to their crew.For a seaman to receive compensation under the Jones Act, they must prove:
- Their status as a “seaman,” which generally means they work on a vessel in navigation and have a substantial connection to that vessel.
- The employer was negligent, which can be shown by proving the cargo was improperly stored, among other conditions.
- Their injury resulted from that negligence.
Prevention is KeyWhile the Jones Act provides an avenue for seamen to seek compensation, the ideal scenario is one where injuries are prevented in the first place. Some best practices for cargo storage include:
- Regular Training: Crew members should receive periodic training on proper cargo handling and storage techniques.
- Safety Inspections: Frequent inspections can identify potential hazards before they become a problem.
- Secure Storage Solutions: Utilizing modern storage solutions, like adjustable shelving and lockable containers, can help ensure cargo remains stationary even in rough seas.
- Clear Communication: When cargo is loaded, unloaded, or shifted, clear communication among crew members can help prevent mishaps.
- Conducting a Job Safety Hazard Analysis: The crew should be trained in how to perform a job safety hazard analysis to look at the risks involved in the storage of the materials and devise a plan to properly stow the items.
The improper storage of cargo on maritime vessels can lead to a host of dangers, both to the crew and the vessel itself. While the Jones Act provides a safety net for seamen injured by these oversights, proactive measures by employers can dramatically reduce the risk in the first place. Proper training, regular inspections, and clear communication are essential components of any ship's safety regimen. If you or a loved one have been injured due to improper storage practices on a ship or vessel, contact one of our experienced maritime lawyers for a free consultation to discuss your legal options.