Working in the offshore oil industry can be an extremely dangerous occupation as there are a number of unavoidable hazards. Making matters worse is that not every employer takes their workers’ safety seriously. Fortunately, the Jones Act applies to the offshore oil and gas industry, giving injured workers the right to financial compensation when an employer has been negligent. If you have been hurt while working offshore, your first step should be to call a Mississippi oil and gas accident lawyer to discuss your case.
Statistics About Offshore Incidents and Injuries
The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement compiles statistics on reported offshore incidents. In 2018, there were 171 people injured in offshore accidents along with one fatality. There were three explosions during the calendar year and 77 fires, meaning that many of the injuries suffered were severe. It can reasonably be assumed that there were many more injuries that were treated aboard a rig but not recorded the Bureau. Some of the injuries that oil and gas workers often suffer in accidents include:
- Traumatic Brain Injuries
- Respiratory damage from gas inhalation
- Spinal cord injuries
The Jones Act Gives You a Right to File a Lawsuit
The Jones Act gives injured “seamen” certain legal protections. A “seaman” is a vessel crew member whose duties contribute to the completion of the vessel’s mission. Under the Jones Act, anyone whose presence aboard a vessel is necessary to complete its mission is a “seaman.” Normally, employees who have been hurt on the job must file workers’ compensation claims, which are governed by restrictive caps on how much compensation can be recovered by the injured worker. When seamen suffer accidents on the water, the Jones Act allows for those injured to sue their employer directly, and generally permits those workers to receive more compensation for their injuries than would be available under traditional workers’ compensation laws.
The law introduces its own standard of negligence that plaintiffs must prove. Namely, employers are required to provide their workers with a reasonably safe place to work, and they must use ordinary care to keep the workplace reasonably safe. Importantly, the burden for proving a right to compensation is less than the burden for proving ordinary negligence claims onshore. Whereas under ordinary negligence law an injured person is usually required to prove that the defendant’s negligence was the primary cause of injury, an injured seaman under the Jones Act must only prove that the employer’s conduct in creating or allowing a dangerous condition played any part, no matter how small, in causing the injury. Some of the more common issues that give rise to Jones Act claims include:
The Condition of the Rig or Vessel
Many Jones Act claims are based on poor maintenance of the rig or vessel on which work is being performed. Some circumstances under which the employer could be found to have breached their legal obligations to their workers to provide a reasonably safe workplace include:
- tools left out in the open
- grease or oil that is not quickly cleaned from where people walk and work
- other trip hazards on the deck or work surface
Negligent Hiring and Poor Training
In some cases, employees may be injured because of the act of a fellow employee. The fact that another employee caused an accident does not let the employer off the hook as far as liability is concerned. One common ground of negligence in Jones Act lawsuits is negligent hiring. When it comes to staffing an offshore vessel or rig, employers must make sure that the staff is sufficient, safe, and qualified. This means that the employer must verify the employee’s skills and check their background. They have a legal responsibility to their other workers to do so.
Not only must the staff be qualified, but they must also be adequately trained to do their job. Offshore work is a very specialized profession that requires numerous modes of training. Before they are allowed to perform any duties, offshore workers must have rigorous safety training. Otherwise, their employer could be found negligent in a lawsuit.
Defective Equipment and Machinery
The equipment that offshore workers use is also critical to their safety. For starters, each employee must be given the proper safety equipment before they begin to work. However, not all workers are given all the personal protective equipment that they need and end up more vulnerable to a work injury.
Then, the tools and work equipment that workers are furnished with must function properly. If one device fails, it could imperil the entire crew. In cases in which a defective work tools cause accidents, victims may also be able to bring a claim against the tool manufacturer or retailer.
That said, parts often fail on offshore rigs. Not only must the owner furnish the vessel with safe parts, but it must also maintain them properly. This involves regular maintenance checks. Nonetheless, many employers, whether it is out of a desire to cut costs or just plain carelessness, maintain the equipment inadequately. If they do not properly maintain their equipment, it may be possible to hold employers liable for any injuries that occur as a result.
In a notable case, the Deepwater Horizon disaster happened in part because one of the emergency disconnect systems was not functional because a crucial piece of equipment was incorrectly wired. Eleven people died in the explosion that could have been prevented with a functional cap.
Working with offshore oil and gas is inherently dangerous because of the highly flammable nature of petroleum. Add pressure to the equation, and oil and gas are highly volatile substances with the potential to cause serious injuries. Negligence can cause fires and explosions on rigs and vessels. In fact, these are some of the leading causes of injuries.
Fires are a special cause of risk, and poor safety procedures and training increase the dangers. Workers may have received subpar training in how to handle the risks of fires and explosions. Alternatively, the offshore rig may have poor procedures on how to deal with flammable materials or simply may not follow them at all.
Improper Drilling Techniques
Rig blowouts are another significant cause of accidents. They often occur because workers fail to control the pressure in the well, leading to a blowout. Although drilling equipment has become safer and more technologically advanced, inadequately trained or unqualified workers may nonetheless cause blowouts resulting in serious injury. Also, poorly maintained safety equipment might fail, causing pressure in the well to spiral out of control. Not all blowouts cause explosions, but they still put workers at serious risk. In the event that they are the result of employer negligence, injured workers may be able to recover compensation.
Contact a Mississippi Jones Act Lawyer Today
The Van Cleave Law firm has been fighting hard for clients for over two decades. We care strongly about fighting for our clients’ legal rights and for justice. If you or a loved one has been injured working offshore, you may be entitled to substantial financial compensation. We will not rest until the proper party is held fully accountable for their negligence that caused the injury or death. Call us today at (228) 432-7826 or contact us online for your free initial consultation.