Wind farms are a growth sector in the United States energy industry. Wind farms are large sections of open water (typically ocean) where many large wind turbines are placed. The wind turbines have massive spinning blades to catch marine environmental winds which spin a turbine to generate electricity. There can be hundreds of turbines at some wind farms. And each turbine can be hundreds of feet tall.
While a few ocean-based wind farms are already operating in the U.S., many more are planned or under construction. There is significant risk for maritime personal injury during all phases of a wind farm lifecycle: installation of turbines, laying of cables, arrangement of electrical components, wind farm commissioning, wind farm power generation, preventative maintenance, repairs, replacements, and ultimate decommissioning.
Wind farms are enormous projects supported by a wide variety of workers exposed to the perils of the sea. These include:
During construction, wind farm areas are worked by a variety of commercial vessels such as Wind Turbine Installation Vessels, liftboats, survey ships, cable laying vessels, and Field Development Vessels. Tenders and supply boats may also be present delivering turbines, blades, supplies, crew, parts, tools, and other materials.
Due to their size, operating wind farms often require a fleet of vessels to service individual turbines and enable continual operation. They are known as Wind Farm Service Vessels, Crew Transfer Vessels, or Offshore Wind Support Vessels. The support vessels are tasked with transferring mechanical components, tools, safety equipment, and workers throughout the windfarm. If larger vessel support is needed, wind farms may also have access to a Service Operations Vessel or a Feeder Support Vessel.
The ocean is a dangerous place. Just being exposed to wind, waves, and weather is a serious factor in wind farm injuries. Wind farm workers can be maimed or tragically killed after falling from significant heights or going overboard into cold and tumultuous waters. Other common injuries may include:
Traumatic brain injuries
Confined space injuries
There are also risks of injury before a wind farm worker even gets to a turbine. Vessel traffic mixed with environmental conditions can result in collisions, allisions, equipment failure, and falling overboard from supply vessels and support vessels.
Wind farms are a burgeoning industry in the U.S. That means the law for injuries in service of wind farms is rapidly developing as well. The location of the wind turbine or vessel, and the status of the injured or deceased worker can be deciding factors in what legal scheme an injury claim must be brought.
For example, maritime workers who spend a sufficient amount of their time in service of a vessel may qualify as Jones Act seamen who are entitled to claims for negligence, unseaworthiness, and maintenance and cure. Other workers may be deemed amphibious non-Jones Act employees who should receive benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. While LHWCA employee typically receive benefits as part of an administrative claim before the Department of Labor, they may also have avenues of recovering from negligent third parties under maritime law. Still other workers may not be Jones Act seamen or longshoremen. Those claims might be subject to maritime common law. Finally, if a wind farm is located far enough offshore and a worker dies, surviving family members may have a claim under the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA).
Confusing, right? That’s why anyone injured at a wind farm, on a turbine, or aboard a vessel serving a wind farm should contact a skilled maritime attorney as quickly as possible. Injury claims may be subject to statutes of limitation and injury reporting requirements. A Jones Act lawyer may be able to help.
Wind farms have the potential to employ ever more people in the coming decade. Safety on support vessels and turbines is critical to prevent injuries. If negligence results in harm to a mariner or other wind farm worker, it may be possible to sue for money damages. Contact a seasoned admiralty lawyer at Mariner Law, PLLC for a free consultation. There is no obligation. A lawyer can help you understand your options and take steps towards compensation: (253) 600-2531. The firm proudly serves mariner clients in Washington, Oregon, New York, Connecticut, Alaska, and nationwide.