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Vessel Sinking Death and Injury Claims

When a vessel sinks, there may be multiple crewmembers lost or injured. The families of those lost at sea have a right under maritime law to assert claims against the vessel owner and/or employer. Survivors have a right to bring claims for their injuries, including mental and emotional trauma resulting from the event.

The legal claims available for injury or death of crewmembers differ from claims available to passengers, fisheries observers, or other non-crewmembers injured or killed aboard commercial vessels. Similarly, maritime death and injury claims differ significantly from claims arising from accidents occurring on shore. For this reason, it is important that claimants consult with an experienced maritime attorney with specialized expertise in maritime death and injury claims.

To recover for wrongful death or injuries resulting from a vessel sinking, claimants must prove that the vessel went down due to negligence (Jones Act) or unseaworthiness. By their nature, vessels are not supposed to sink. The fact that a vessel went down is a strong indication that something went terribly wrong. Possible causes of vessel sinking can be improper loading, running aground, colliding with ice pack, collision with another vessel, engine problems, steering problems, and fire. Upon investigating catastrophic losses like vessel sinkings, it is often revealed that multiple safety precautions were ignored which could have prevented the tragedy.

The damages recoverable in wrongful death and injury claims vary depending on the type of claim. The recoverable damages for wrongful death under the Jones Act include damages for loss of financial support, loss of nurture and guidance to minor children, loss of service, and pre-death pain and suffering. Injured crewmembers may generally recover lost wages, medical expenses (also covered by maintenance and cure), and pain and suffering.

In events like vessel sinkings involving multiple claimants, it is important to find out what kind of insurance coverage is available as soon as possible. Generally, insurance policies set a maximum amount to be paid out per incident, regardless of how many claimants are involved. Many maritime insurance policies are called “wasting” policies, which means that money spent by the employer on defense lawyers will reduce the total amount of money available to pay to claimants. If the aggregate of all the claims arising from the incident add up to more than the insurance coverage, there may be difficulty obtaining a full recovery. It is important to consult with a maritime lawyer to ensure that all avenues of recovery are considered.

Sometimes when there are catastrophic events like vessel sinkings with multiple claimants, insurance companies will try to settle quickly with the surviving families for a reduced amount. Without a background in maritime law and dealing with heightened emotions, it is very difficult for claimants to determine on their own whether an offer is a good deal.

Our firm offers free consultations regardless of whether you decide to hire us. If an insurance company has reached out to try to settle your claim, it is a good idea to speak to a lawyer regarding your rights before agreeing to accept the deal. If you or a loved one has been injured or lost at sea due to a vessel sinking, call us any time at (206) 624-8844 to speak to an experienced maritime attorney.