Tugboats are marine vessels that transport other vessels by either pulling them or pushing them. They are a vital aspect of maritime commerce. They help move vessels that either cannot operate on their own because they lack propulsion or cannot easily operate because of overly congested areas.
These vessels are commonly utilized in river transportation, including the Mississippi River, one of the primary arteries for transit throughout the United States. They are also commonly used in open water areas like the Gulf of Mexico. It should come as no surprise that many Louisiana residents have made careers working on tugboats.
Like with all offshore and maritime operations, however, there is always the possibility of tugboat accidents. These accidents can lead to devastating consequences for accident victims.
Here are a handful of things to know about tugboat accidents so you will be prepared if you are ever forced to deal with one.
Recent Examples of Tragic Tugboat Accidents
In March 2016, a tugboat collision killed three crew members on the spot. The accident occurred on the Hudson River, close to Tappan Zee Bridge, where the boat collided with a construction barge, sinking the vessel almost instantly.
To use another example, in July 2013, a tugboat capsized in Winona County, Minnesota, while piloting the Lock and Dam No. 7. Shortly after the vessel overturned, two maritime workers were rescued from the water, injured but still alive. Tragically, a 22-year-old crewmember was trapped inside the vessel and passed away.
Tugboats frequently happen, all around the world. These two horrific examples merely serve to highlight the awful consequences that can occur from tugboat accidents.
Common causes of tug boat accidents
There are several reasons why tug boat accidents can occur. Some of the common causes include:
- Mechanical problems: When tug boat owners fail to regularly maintain their vessels, some of the tug’s essential mechanical components can fail and lead to an accident. Using old machinery or defective equipment also increases the risks.
- Collisions: Since the tug boats pull vessels along difficult to navigate spaces, the pilots need to be highly trained and experienced to reduce the risk of deadly collisions with larger vessels. Collisions can still happen even with experienced pilots, especially when the vessel has poorly maintained navigational gear.
- On-board hazards: Several tug boat accidents have occurred due to improper safety equipment and slippery conditions on the deck. Inadequate crew training in using machinery and equipment can increase the likelihood of injuries.
- Capsizing: Capsizing is the leading cause of fatalities in tug boat accidents. Collisions with larger vessels can make the tug boat overturn or leak and eventually capsize. Mechanical failure, extreme weather, and a choppy ocean also contribute to the accident.
Types of Accidents That Can Occur on Tugboats
There are countless ways that tugboat accidents can occur. These are just a handful of examples of how tugboat accidents can occur:
Slip and Fall Accidents on Tugboats
Vessel decks can be uneven, slippery, and clattered. These accidents are much more likely to occur when vessel owners fail to take steps to avoid hazards and make potentially slippery surfaces safer for crew members, such as by installing rails and non-skid on walkways. It is also important for boats to be well lit to make any potential hazards easily recognizable for crewmembers.
Tugboat Capsize Accidents
Due to the nature of their jobs and their small size, tugboats are prone to capsizing, which is one of the leading causes of fatalities and injuries. Capsizes can happen because of a wide variety of factors, the most common of which is the weather. Because the weather can cause capsizes, vessel owners and operators must pay careful attention to changing weather conditions to make sure that they do not needlessly endanger tugboat workers’ lives.
Unqualified crewmembers and poorly maintained navigational equipment have led to countless tugboat accidents. Since tugboats are much smaller than other vessels, they can be obstructed from view by a larger vessel, causing collisions. Inexperienced mariners are also a cause of vessel collisions. As you can imagine, vessel collisions lead to severe injuries for offshore workers.
Laws that Apply to Tugboat Accidents
Maritime laws afford numerous remedies for injured offshore workers. Tugboat crewmembers are fortunately no exception to the rule and are afforded the same protections.
The Jones Act
The Jones Act will often apply to tugboat workers. Provided that the workers qualify for seaman status, they will typically have a cause of action against their employer for negligence, which differs from most occupations where workers’ compensation laws bar such claims. It is also important to note that Jones Act negligence claims only require a minimal showing of causation, meaning that the employer’s negligence needed to have only played some role in the worker’s injuries.
The Doctrine of Unseaworthiness
Injured tugboat crewmembers may also have claims for unseaworthiness against tugboat owners or operators. A vessel owner/operator warrants that the vessel be “seaworthy” (or fit its intended use). If this duty is breached (such as by having a poorly maintained vessel or an incompetent crew), injured crewmembers may be able to bring unseaworthiness claims against the vessel owner or operator.
Offshore Workers’ Compensation Laws
There are also maritime workers’ compensation laws that will likely be applicable in a tugboat accident. Unlike with Jones Act claims or unseaworthiness claims, workers’ compensation claims do not require that somebody be negligent or at fault in the accident.
The key question is whether or not the tugboat worker qualifies as a seaman. If the worker is a seaman, they will have a claim for maintenance and cure. That allows the worker to receive maintenance (a daily rate to cover living expenses) and cure (medical expenses paid). If the worker is not a seaman but is instead a longshoreman, the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) will be applicable. Like state workers’ comp laws, the LHWCA allows injured dockers to recover a portion of their wages and have their medical bills paid.
Steps to Take When Injured in a Tugboat Accident
If you are injured in a tugboat accident due to negligence or unseaworthy conditions, you will likely be entitled to compensation. In addition to being able to bring a lawsuit against the vessel owner/operator and possibly your employer, you may receive offshore workers’ compensation benefits, regardless of who was responsible for your accident.
If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of being injured, you should report your accident and seek medical treatment for your injuries. You have the right to be seen by a doctor you choose and are not required to get all of your treatment from the company doctors. You should make sure that your employer understands that you have been injured and how that injury will impact your ability to work.
The easiest way to handle all of this is to engage an offshore and maritime accident lawyer. This will take a lot of the burden off of you and allow you to focus on the most important thing: getting your health back so you can return to work. This will also put you in the best position to be fully and fairly compensated for your injuries.
Contact a Louisiana Tugboat Injury Lawyer
If you have been in an offshore accident involving a tugboat, you will probably have countless questions and no real idea of what you should do. The Mahone Firm is here to help. There is no charge for a confidential case evaluation with a maritime lawyer. Contact Mike Mahone today to discuss your case and figure out the next steps.