A few days ago, our maritime lawyers reported sad news regarding the case of a former cruise ship captain who died after contracting Legionella in 2009. The victim, Tore Myhra, became ill while on a cruise vacation with his family onboard Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas, and the line refused to have him medically evacuated off the ship. He died in a Miami hospital the same day the ship docked. Had he received treatment sooner, he might still be alive. Myhra’s wife Sue filed a lawsuit against Royal alleging that her husband contracted the bacteria while onboard the vessel, but because of loopholes in its passenger ticket contract, the suit was dismissed.
However, this case should not serve as a deterrent for victims who have become ill or injured while in the care of a cruise line or other maritime vessel. More often than not, victims obtain the justice they deserve for their pain and suffering, which is exactly what transpired in a recent case involving a Louisiana seaman.
The plaintiff sustained an injury while working at the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig when it exploded three years ago in April off the coast of Louisiana. The explosion led to a fire and ultimately caused the rig to sink, resulting in the world’s largest maritime oil spill and the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history.
According to BP, the explosion and subsequent fire were the result of hydrocarbons being sucked into the air intakes of the rig’s diesel generators, which engulfed the area where the generators’ exhaust outlets emitted hot exhaust gas. The maritime accident could have been easily prevented had the rig’s engines been fitted with automatic shutdown valves, Pyrobian kits or gas detection systems. However, knowing the risk this posed to workers, the oil company did nothing to make the rig safer for those onboard.
There were 126 crew members onboard when the explosion occurred. Nearly a dozen workers were killed in the tragic oil rig accident and several others were seriously injured. Many oil company employees filed lawsuits against BP seeking compensation for their workplace injuries, including the Louisiana man, who after three long years, finally obtained some semblance of justice.
The case is monumental because the seaman was able to obtain compensation for his injuries following the rig explosion even though he failed to disclose a prior back injury on his pre-employment paperwork.
Under the Jones Act, a federal law that protects seafarers, the worker was entitled to recover compensation because his injures were the result of his employer’s failure to provide a safe working environment. He was originally compensated by his employer after the explosion, but upon discovering that the seaman had lied on his pre-employment documentation, the company sought reimbursement for the payments. At that point, the worker filed an appeal and the court ruled in his favor.
According to the ruling, despite the fact that the seaman did not disclose his prior injury, his ability to work was never affected by his pre-existing condition, thus, his employer was not excused from paying worker’s compensation and the injured seaman was not obligated to reimburse his employer for the payments he received.
The ruling marks a giant step in the right direction for seafarers who suffer injuries at the hands of negligent employers and shows that despite the efforts of maritime corporations to withhold workers’ compensation, medical benefits, wages, and diminish a seaman’s basic rights, all seafarers are protected by the Jones Act and are entitled to file a claim when injured while in the care of their employer.
Photo Credit: Deepwater Horizon accident – guardian.co.uk