St. Louis Attorney for Maritime Accidents on Riverways

Have you been hurt while working on a boat or barge on one of our rivers or waterways?

The St. Louis region has the nation’s second-largest total tonnage of goods passing through its river ports. Heavy barge and commercial boat traffic means that river barge accidents will be fairly common. These are workplace accidents for the men and women who work on those boats.

It’s a good thing there are maritime laws that apply to boats and barges on our riverways. If you’ve been hurt on a boat while on the job, you may be entitled to compensation.

The team at Hipskind & McAninch LLC is available to help you; we’ll fight to get the money you are rightfully owed following your boat or river barge accident. Contact us now for a free initial consultation about your situation to learn more about how we can help you. Our free consultation is a valuable tool to get a clearer understanding of your situation and to determine exactly what kinds of compensation you can reasonably expect from a barge accident on the Mississippi River or Missouri River.

Barge Accidents on the Mississippi

River barge on Mississippi River river barge accidents

Barge accidents happen all the time on the Mississippi River. Barges can break loose and potentially hit bridges, locks, or dams. Tugs can crash, and even sink. Cargo can be spilled.

Many of these accidents happen because of nature: Water levels are too high, or visibility is not good. But accidents can also happen if the owner or operator of the boat or barge has not paid proper attention to what is needed for safety.

Some accidents involving a boat, barge, or cargo on a river like the Mississippi or Missouri are similar to what people would think of as workplace injury. A worker, through no fault of their own, is injured while working on a boat or barge. There is no need for a crash or sinking: The simple fact that a worker has been injured is enough to consider legal action.

What Happens if You Are Injured on the Job on a Boat or Barge?

There are many ways in which workers potentially can be injured on a boat or barge:

  • Slip-and-fall accident
  • Falling overboard
  • Injuries due to hypothermia
  • Back strain
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Loss of a limb or severe lacerations
  • Burns
  • Hypoxia
  • Strains and sprains

While many injuries will be immediately apparent, some injuries might not show symptoms for a day or two. It is important that you contact a doctor as soon as the first symptoms arise. Then contact a good attorney with experience in river barge accidents.

River Barge Accidents and the Law

Filing for Workers Comp or Personal Injury

If you were working a job on land, being injured while on the job would fall under the laws for worker’s compensation. But for people who work on boats on our local waterways, normal worker’s compensation rules do not apply.

Instead, accidents on river boats and barges are covered by a piece of legislation called the Jones Act. A federal mandate created in the 1920s, the Act helps people who work on America’s waterways get compensation for accidents and injuries.

The Jones Act specifically covers seamen who work aboard vessels that are “in navigation.” That means that the vessel is either traveling a waterway or is capable of doing so. In the St. Louis region, all of the people who work on the barges and commercial boats in navigation that we see on the Mississippi River and Missouri River are covered by the Jones Act if they get hurt.

Most employees onboard navigable vessels are classified as seamen, as long as they spend at least 30% of their time on a vessel. If a seaman is injured in a river barge accident, they should seek the advice of an attorney with experience in the Jones Act to be sure to get the compensation they deserve.

How the Jones Act Protects Maritime Employees on Our Riverways

Narrow stairs leading to the deck of a river barge

The Jones Act ensures that seamen have three basic rights when injured in a river barge accident or on any other navigable vessel.

1. The right to “cure and maintenance.”

This part of the Jones Act guarantees that an employer will compensate a seaman for their medical expenses and living expenses while recovering. It does not matter whether or not the employer is at fault for the accident. 

The “cure” portion includes any emergency care and medical expenses. “Maintenance” refers to rent or mortgage payments, food, and other living expenses. Both maintenance and cure payment end when the seaman has reached “maximum medical improvement.”

2. The right to sue an employer for negligence.

The fact that cure and maintenance payments can fail to fully compensate a seaman is balanced out by the ability to file a lawsuit when there is negligence. Employers on navigable vessels owe their employees a safe place to work. They can be liable for safety hazards, as well as the negligence of the seaman’s captain or any co-workers onboard.

River barge accidents and injuries caused by some of these unsafe conditions can count as negligence:

  • Inadequate training
  • Broken or poorly maintained equipment
  • Slipping hazards due to oil or grease on the deck or stairs
  • Failure to follow safety training and protocols

The Jones Act is an employee-friendly rule. While it is up to the seaman to prove negligence on the part of their employer, the burden of proof is often fairly easy to establish. Even if an employer’s action (or inaction) was only 1% to blame for an injury, the seaman can be entitled to damages.

3. The right to sue the owner of the vessel for unseaworthiness.

In maritime law, unseaworthiness does not mean that a boat is unable to navigate waterways. Instead, like negligence, it means that the vessel does not provide the seaman with a suitable place and adequate equipment and safety to perform the job.

Guiding You Through the Process

Because the Jones Act is a federal law, it works differently than a typical personal injury case. This is yet another reason why it is important to work with an attorney familiar with the Jones Act and maritime law as they apply to our riverways. Here at Hipskind & McAninch, we’ve worked with both types of cases and know what the burden of proof is for each.

We begin each case with a conversation. Once we have a clear understanding of your injuries and the particulars of the case, we will be honest with you about your options for moving forward and seeking compensation. We do not charge anything for our initial consultation, nor do we charge fees—we only get paid if you win your claim or case.

If you decide to proceed, we will file a claim on your behalf to begin the process. The burden of proof is fairly low with the Jones Act; cases can be won by seamen if the employer is found to be even 1% to blame.

During this time, it is important that you focus on recovering from your injuries without the stress or hassle of managing your claim. We will handle the administrative work, while you focus on getting care and rest. (Stress is shown to have a serious impact on physical recovery times, so the less stressed you are, the better your health outcomes may be.)

Most compensation claims will yield something, but there are some rare times when a claim will need to be taken up in court. We will help to gather evidence and statements, and prepare you and your case for your day in court. Most cases are settled out of court, but if it comes to trial, it helps to know you have someone fighting for you and the compensation you deserve.

Contact Hipskind & McAninch LLC for a Free Consultation Today

The Jones Act allows a seaman to file a claim or bring a suit, but only for a limited time. You have three years following an accident to file your claim. That might sound like a lot of time. But between visits to the doctor and surgeon, recovery, physical therapy, and just the general stress of the situation, that time will be gone before you know it.

A credible attorney can make sure that the appropriate evidence is gathered in time to meet this deadline. Still, we should begin as soon as possible.

If you live or work in the greater St. Louis area, including the city of St. Louis or St. Louis County in Missouri or St. Clair or Madison County in Illinois, reach out to us as soon as possible for your free consultation. You can call or text us, or simply fill out the form below.