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Offshore drilling accident: Are you covered under maritime law?

On April 20, 2010, a horrible tragedy occurred in the Gulf Coast, just off the shores of Louisiana. It was one of our country's worst offshore disasters, causing over 3 million barrels of crude oil to spill and the rig to sink. The devastation to wildlife, beaches and wetlands spanned across coastlines from Texas to Florida where balls of tar can still be found on beaches. Seafood processing plants and restaurants also continue to work towards recovery. Many know about this as the BP oil spill, others know it as the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

Hollywood just released a film about Deepwater Horizon. Some know what the story is about while others had no idea until the movie came out or did a little Google search-the human factor was not covered as heavily in the media as the environmental impact. Despite some arguments over whether or not the movie is an accurate portrayal of what the workers endured, or that it will undermine BP's PR efforts to restore tourism, it brings up a poignant subject about the crewman who worked on that rig and will bring to light their ordeal in addition to what it cost the environment.

Looking at the human factor, 11 were killed and many more suffered injuries when the well erupted. Many of the safety measures or alarms put in place did not function or went off far too late, which caused chaos and panic. Some workers dove 60 feet off the platform to escape the inferno.

While the Deepwater Horizon is a high profile incident with tragic consequences, smaller offshore oil rig accidents do occur. The vessels crewmen work on are rife with slippery surfaces, not to mention heavy equipment and combustible materials.

Workers on jack-up rigs are covered under the federal maritime law, specifically the Jones Act, if they sustain an injury while working. Those who work for a subcontractor, however, would not be covered under the Jones Act but fall under general maritime law. Employees who work on a fixed platform are covered for injuries under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA). The two would come into play, depending on your classification, for an injury or fatality that occurred while on the job.

Unfortunately, some employers will pay injured crewmen under the Longshore Act instead of maritime law because it can be cheaper for the company. It is important for an injured worker to make sure statements about the incident are accurate and then speak with an attorney who is board-certified in admiralty and maritime law to discuss potential benefits you may be entitled to.

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