Legal Remedies For Wash. Longshore And Harbor Worker Injuries

Washington state exports and imports many, many millions of dollars' worth in goods annually. The Washington Public Ports Association reports that Washington is the most "trade-dependent" state in the nation. The state's Pacific coast is littered with sea and river ports and harbors, from Seattle to Everett, Tacoma to Grays Harbor, and many more.

WPPA also says that one-quarter of all Washington state jobs is related to the trade industry - a figure that implies a huge proportion of Washington workers employed in harbors in the shipping industry. The industrial nature of modern maritime shipping creates the risk of severe injury on the job.

The LHWCA

In 1927, Congress passed the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act to create a no-fault system of compensation for on-shore maritime workers who work with ships. Those covered by the Act work in U.S. "navigable waters" that include piers, wharfs, docks, terminals and similar structures used by workers who load, unload, repair, dismantle or build ships.

LHWCA benefits

The LHWCA is similar to a state workers' compensation system in which when an employee is injured on the job or gets an occupationally related disease, he or she can file a claim for benefits from the employer regardless of who was at fault for the harm. The LHWCA benefit is normally the employee's only legal remedy against the employer.

Longshore and harbor workers' third-party lawsuits

The LHWCA, however, does allow a claimant to also pursue third-party claims against nonemployers who contributed to or caused the injury. Virtually any type of valid lawsuit under federal or state law can be filed such as:

  • A maritime claim against a vessel's owner for an injury to a cargo handler suffered because of a dangerous, unrepaired condition on a ship being loaded or unloaded in port
  • A state law negligence claim against the owner or maintainer of sa crane or other piece of heavy equipment used in cargo movement in port when negligent maintenance or repair caused equipment failure that injured a cargo handler or operator
  • A premises liability claim against the owner or manager of a terminal or shipyard containing a dangerous condition that caused port worker injury
  • A product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer, designer, seller or distributor of a piece of equipment improperly designed or manufactured that caused injury to a harbor worker
  • And more

The types of damages allowed in the third-party claim vary depending on the type of suit, but might include medical costs, pain and suffering, rehabilitation costs, emotional anguish, interest, punitive damages and more. In some situations, the employer may be able to recover some or all of a recovery from a third party.

Importance of legal counsel

The system of LHWCA benefits and third-party claims for longshore and harbor workers' injuries is very complicated legally and, often, factually. It is in the best interest of a Washington state harbor worker, cargo handler, ship repairer or builder, stevedore or similar worker covered by the Act to contact an experienced maritime attorney as soon as possible after the injury for assistance with the LHWCA benefit claim.

In addition, and sometimes more significantly, a knowledgeable Washington LHWCA lawyer can investigate the accident that caused the injury to determine whether other potentially responsible third parties exist who may be the appropriate defendants to third-party lawsuits for the harm.

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