Antiquated laws sometimes complicate the rights of seaman, longshoreman and other worker to seek fair and just compensation for work-related injuries. In one case, a dredge operator is relying on an almost 200- year-old federal maritime law to limit their liability and delay claims for a fatality-causing pipeline explosion.
Back in August, a pipeline exploded in the Port of Corpus Christi in Texas. The explosion caused four fatalities and six injuries.
The National Transportation Safety Board found that one of the defendants was dredging on another defendant’s pipeline. Its dredging vessel, the Waymon L. Boyd, apparently hit the pipeline. After the blast, the dredge owner claimed in its defense that the pipeline was not mapped.
Six lawsuits seeking over $360 million have been filed so far. The dredging company, in response, filed pleadings in the U.S. District Court in Galveston on Oct. 5 seeking protection under the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851.
This pre-Civil War maritime law restricts claims against a vessel’s owner to the value of the vessel. The Waymon L. Boyd dredging vessel is only worth slightly over nine million dollars.
In an offshore accident, injured workers or the families of deceased workers may typically file a claim under the Jones Act within three years. If this motion is successful, however, injured workers and their families may have only 60 days to file claims. This may also prevent other explosion victims or their families from filing their claims
A spokesperson for the dredge owner said that this filing was required by its insurer carrier. An attorney for one of the injured workers, however, argued that this law is outdated, and it is usually used to protect foreign insurance companies. He said that the law being used to slow down the proceedings and wear down the claimants.
The Jones Act and other maritime and admiralty laws may be complicated. Injured workers can inadvertently surrender important rights if they do not have legal representation for their claims.