Many deeper bodies of water in U.S. coastal areas that we know of today were not naturally deep enough for vessel traffic. Dredging is the act of removing and relocating sediment from the bottom of a channel, river, harbor, bay, port, bar, or other area of navigable waters. Most of the habitable areas sustaining the modern maritime industry were created by dredging at some point. Thereafter, these areas must be intermittently dredged again to remove the natural accumulation of sediment in the bottom of the waterway.
While dredging is used for marine construction, it is most commonly associated with keeping shipping channels deep enough to support ships, tugs, barges, ferries, cruise ships and other vessels involved in maritime commerce. The most common areas where dredge vessels operate are:
Main approaches from the ocean to protected waters
Bar channels, usually protected by jetties (common on the U.S. west coast)
Entrance channels into more restricted areas of navigation
Ports and terminal channels
Berth and other dock approaches in an area of safe harbor
Inland waterways like navigable rivers
Dredge work can be performed by private companies but permitting—and often the dredge work itself—is intimately connected to the government. Chief among the administrative agencies involved in dredging is the United States Army Corps. of Engineers under the General Survey Act of 1824 and the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899.
Performing the gargantuan task of maintaining America’s waterways are an array of dredge vessels, such as:
Hydraulic Dredges (sucks a mixture of sediment and water to the surface)
Hopper Dredges (sucks sediment into the dredge vessel itself for relocation)
Cutter Suction Dredges (sucks sediment through a pipe into another target area)
Mechanical Dredges (uses a large mechanical scoop to lift dredge material via dipper, backhoe, or clamshell)
These and other dredge vessels, like dredge barges, use heavy equipment to perform their work. Diesel engines, cranes, hydraulics, hoses, propellers, and spuds are just a few examples. Unfortunately, significant injuries can result from misuse of dredger equipment. Cranes can drop heavy loads, buckets can snag underwater pipelines causing an explosion, and heavy piping can crush limbs. These risks are over and above the risk already faced by mariners serving on vessels in general, such as slippery surfaces, raised thresholds, tight spaces, and heavy moving objects. Negligence aboard a dredge boat can quickly result in:
Falls from a height
Traumatic brain injuries
Slip and fall injuries
Maritime law is complicated. That’s why anyone injured on a dredger should contact a maritime lawyer as soon as possible. Numerous federal statutes and age-old maritime common laws could be relevant to your situation. These include the Jones Act, general maritime law, maintenance and cure, and the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA).
The LHWCA may apply to certain dredge vessel workers, especially adjacent to shore. It is a federal workers’ compensation statute that pays for certain income and medical expenses after a work-related injury on a no-fault basis. Typically, a longshoreman can’t sue his or her employer. However, a salty admiralty lawyer may be able to identify some exceptions. An attorney can also help you identify potentially liable third parties like vessel owners.
Employees on other types of dredge vessels may be considered as seamen under the Jones Act. The Jones Act is a 100-year-old statute that gives commercial mariners the right to sue their employers for workplace injuries. It also requires maritime employers to provide maritime employees a safe place to work. This cause of action is known as Jones Act negligence. Seamen may have another claim under the ancient doctrine of unseaworthiness. Vessel owners can be liable to injured seafarers for any equipment or conditions aboard the vessel that renders it unfit for its intended purpose. Confusing, right? That’s where a maritime lawyer can help. You may have a claim for monetary damages.
In addition to injury-related claims for damages, seamen are also entitled to assistance with living expenses and medical bills until they reach maximum medical cure. This is known as maintenance and cure—a remedy for mariners that pre-dates the United States.
Dredge workers do the heavy lifting on vessels, but you shouldn’t do the heavy lifting in your claim for personal injury. Mariner Law, PLLC specializes in issues of admiralty law and personal injuries. You might be entitled to money damages or help with medical bills. But the only way to be sure is speak with a lawyer. Call with confidence. There’s no obligation to speak with a Jones Act attorney at Mariner Law, PLLC and the consultation is free: (253) 600-2531. The firm proudly serves mariner clients in Washington, Oregon, New York, Connecticut, Alaska, and nationwide.