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Collision in Houston Ship Channel a reminder of maritime risks

The recent collision of a chemical tanker and a bulk freighter in the Houston Ship Channel is a reminder of the risks maritime workers face on a daily basis. "This was a significant collision causing significant damage to both vessels," said a U.S. Coast Guard captain.

The accident caused a fuel additive to leak from one of the ships, but the size of the spill was unknown at the time of a report. The chemical, MTBE, is shipped as a liquid but quickly vaporizes. If inhaled, it can cause breathing problems, nausea and dizziness, and two dock workers were reportedly taken to a hospital because of exposure to the fumes.

Under federal law, if a maritime worker is injured because of his or her employer's negligence, then the worker can sue the employer under a theory of strict liability. The law requires that all types of commercial maritime vessels be seaworthy. In other words, ships, tugboats, barges, fishing vessels, cruise ships, ferries, drilling vessels and tour boats must be safe for their intended purposes.

Note, too, that in order to receive compensation for a maritime injury, an injured worker doesn't have to prove that the employer knew that the vessel was unsafe. It is only necessary to show that the vessel's unseaworthiness resulted in the injury.

Maritime workers injured because of employer negligence may be entitled to compensation for medical bills, physical therapy, lost wages, lost earning capacity, loss of enjoyment of life or other costs resulting from the accident.

To learn more about the kinds of conditions that might make a vessel unseaworthy, please see The Shelton Law Firm's maritime law overview.

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