Many people never give oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico a second thought. These structures sit hundreds of miles offshore where out of sight can easily mean out of mind, at least until another disaster occurs.It might surprise you to learn just how dangerous offshore drilling for gas and oil can be to the people who work on these platforms. Many of them labor up to 12 hours a day, spending as many as two consecutive weeks on the rig in relative isolation. Should an emergency arise, the Coast Guard is their only hope for rescue. If they have to leave the drilling platform, they sit in watertight pods that serve as their lifeboats; these workers have no one but each other to depend while waiting for help to arrive.Although the probability of any individual accident is low, the costs can be extremely high. Maritime law firms are well aware of the fact that for oil rig workers, serious injury and death at sea pose an everyday threat. When a disaster does occur, not all workers make it to safety, and many can disappear, never to be found.Statistics Tell the StoryWithout a doubt, the oil and gas extraction industry in general poses many dangers. In scattered incidents during 2008 alone, 21 extraction workers who punched into work in the morning never lived to punch back out at the end of their shift. As many as 39 explosions or fires occurred on offshore rigs in the first few months of 2009, causing serious injury to numerous workers.Since the late 1960s, statisticians have tallied as many as 184 oil rig incidents around the world. Although approximately 66 percent of them took place overseas, a full 33 percent occurred in the Gulf of Mexico. Frequent causes were exposure to harsh elements, hazardous chemicals and asbestos and, of course, equipment failure.In the Gulf of Mexico, injury at sea was the fate of four workers involved in the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and they were the lucky ones. Eleven others were lost to history, their bodies never recovered.Although the U.S. Minerals and Management Service expects the institution of new regulations to lessen the role of human error in oil rig disasters, there is no real way to guarantee these workers’ safety.Protections of the Jones ActSince the passage of the Jones Act in 1920, all seamen injured at sea and the families of those who died have had the right to sue for negligence. Inspired in part by the Titanic disaster of 1912, the act provided these workers with protections previously unavailable.Seaman still benefit today. Among other things, a successful lawsuit can provide the plaintiff with remedies for:
- Past, present and future medical expenses
- Loss of wages and earning capacity
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of fringe benefits
- Funeral expenses
- Value of household services
Although the advantages are obvious, there is just one problem with the Jones Act: It was written in an age when such modern contrivances as oil rigs did not exist.Murky DefinitionsAs times change, the meanings of various words must change along with them. This is nowhere better exemplified than with the Jones Act, where the commonest bones of contention concern its failure to clearly define the terms “seaman” and “vessel. ” Since the text often leaves these terms open to interpretation, the final determination of what constitutes a seaman or a vessel frequently falls into the lap of the courts.No one should doubt the ability of Jones Act maritime law to provide protections to injured workers, but the talents of a qualified oil rig accident attorney are essential for cutting through the confusion. Neither injured workers nor the families of those who have suffered death at sea should hesitate to contact a Jones Act maritime attorney for help in seeking the damages to which they are entitled.