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Admiralty & Maritime

Admiralty & Maritime

Pittsburgh, PA, WV & OH Admiralty & Maritime Lawyers, Pittsburgh, PA, WV, OH Jones Act and River Lawyers: Goldsmith & Ogrodowski, LLC

We are a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based admiralty and maritime, towboat and barge, and river accident law firm.We help workers and their families who have been seriously injured or killed in accidents on rivers, lakes, and oceans, in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio, and all over the inland waterways and rivers of the United States.

Our admiralty and maritime lawyers represent people, and their families, often in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio, but also all over the inland waterways and rivers of the U.S., who have been seriously injured or killed in accidents. We know how to handle admiralty and maritime lawsuits over towboat and barge accidents, pleasure boat accidents, and passenger and excursion boat accidents.

Are you a deckhand, mate, pilot, captain, engineer, cook or other crewmember of a towboat? Do you work for a company such as ACBL, AEP River Operations, Amherst Madison (formerly Madison Coal and Supply), ARTCO, Bellaire Harbor Service, Blessey Marine Services, Campbell Transportation Company, C & C Marine Maintenance Company, Consol Energy, Consolidation Coal Company, Crounse Corporation, Excell Marine Corporation, Ingram Barge Company, Inland Marine Service, McGinnis Inc., Marquette Transportation Company, Murray Energy, Southern Towing Company, or other towboat and barge operators? We can help you (and your family) enforce your rights under the Jones Act to bring a negligence claim and under the general maritime law to bring unseaworthiness and maintenance and cure claims. You may be entitled to recover lost past wages, lost future earning capacity, past and future medical and rehabilitative expenses, and financial compensation for past and future pain, suffering, disability, disfigurement, and loss of enjoyment of life.

Approved by the National Mariners Association

The National Mariners Association includes G&O attorney Fred Goldsmith on its list of “Approved Legal Assistance for Mariners.

Solid Experience in Admiralty & Maritime Law

Goldsmith & Ogrodowski is widely respected for our work in admiralty and maritime law. Fred Goldsmith is the former general counsel of one of the country’s largest tugboat operators. He practiced with admiralty and maritime law firms in Houston, Texas, representing the world’s largest crew and supply boat operator, offshore drilling contractors, and major and independent oil and gas companies in serious personal injury and death lawsuits arising from jack-up and semi-submersible oil and gas drilling rig, and production platform, operations, both onshore and offshore, in and near the Gulf of Mexico. He brings to his representation of vessel crewmen this significant previous experience representing vessel owners and operators.

Building on his “blue water” experience, and since 1997, Fred Goldsmith, later joined by his partner Rich Ogrodowski, has been handling admiralty and maritime lawsuits on the “brown water,” or rivers and other inland waterways. Having defended commercial vessel operators for years, Fred and Rich find it fulfilling to bring their knowledge and skills to bear to help injured crewmembers and their families. The companies will be represented by experienced admiralty and maritime lawyers…make sure you and your family are, too.

Vessel Crewmember/Jones Act Claims

Our admiralty and maritime attorneys are experienced in handling, in state and federal courts, admiralty and maritime lawsuits for vessel crewmen (deckhands, mates, pilots, captains, engineers, cooks), passengers, and others under the Jones Act and the general maritime law in claims for unseaworthiness, maintenance and cure, and negligence, and also claims under the U.S. Longshore & Harbor Workers Compensation Act for vessel negligence. We know the Jones Act and the claims that can be brought by Jones Act seamen when they are injured or killed on the job.

Duck Boat Accidents and Injuries

Duck boats, whose original acronym was DUKW, are re-purposed amphibious U.S. military vehicles, or modern vehicles based on the same or similar design, which are used for tourist / sightseeing purposes around the United States in cities including Pittsburgh (“Just Ducky Tours”), Philadelphia (“Ride the Ducks”), Newport, Kentucky (also “Ride the Ducks”), Boston (“Boston Duck Tours”), and Seattle (“Ride the Ducks of Seattle”).

Scene of September 24, 2015, crash in Seattle, Washington, involving duck boat and a tour bus.

Scene of September 24, 2015, crash in Seattle, Washington, involving duck boat and tour bus.

The name DUKW comes from the model naming terminology used by General Motors when they were built for service during World War II, with “D” meaning they were designed in 1942, “U” for utility, “K” for all-wheel drive, and “W” for dual rear axles.  Ducks, or DUKWs, or replicas of these craft, have been involved in tragic accidents involving fatalities and serious injuries, both while operating on roadways and in the water:

  • On May 1, 1999, on Lake Hamilton, near Hot Springs, Arkansas, 11 people drowned and one was injured when a duck boat in which they were passengers suddenly sank.
  • On July 7, 2010, on the Delaware River in Philadelphia, a modern-built Ride the Ducks craft became disabled and adrift after experiencing an engine fire and was run over by a barge pushed by a tugboat.  Dora Schwendter, 16, and Szabolcs Prem, 20, died in the accident.  The other passengers and two crewmembers of the duck boat survived.  A lawsuit brought against operators of the duck and the tug settled during trial.
  • On May 8, 2015, a woman crossing the street at rush hour in Philadelphia was killed by a Ride the Ducks boat.  While reports indicate the woman may have been distracted and may have crossed against the light, the duck boat operator also reportedly told police he could not see the woman.  The design of the duck boat creates a significant blind spot around the front, or bow, of the craft for the duck operator, according to an attorney prosecuting a lawsuit arising from this accident.
  • On September 24, 2015, a Ride the Ducks craft collided with a charter bus on the Aurora Bridge in Seattle, Washington, killing five passengers on the bus and injuring many others.  Ride the Ducks of Seattle later admitted to 463 safety violations and agreed to pay $222,000 in penalties to the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission.  In a preliminary report, the National Transportation Safety Board found a defective front axle on the Duck craft may have failed, causing the duck vehicle to veer into the side of the oncoming bus.
  • On April 29, 2016, in Boston, Massachusetts, a woman was killed while on a motor scooter as she was run over by a duck boat as both vehicles turned onto Beacon Street.  Her passenger was not seriously hurt.  Both were wearing helmets.

If you or a family member have been harmed in a duck boat accident, whether on the road or in the water, call us for a free consultation so we can explain to you your legal rights.

Cruise Ship Passengers Claims

If you or a family member are seriously injured or killed while on a cruise ship, such as those operated by Carnival, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Disney, Holland America, or Princess, we can explain to you and help you protect your legal rights. While most cruise ship tickets require that any lawsuit against the cruise line be brought where the company is based, usually in Florida, sometimes these “choice of forum” clauses can be successfully challenged in court.

Commercial & Passenger Vessel / Recreational Boating Accident Claims

We know towboat and barge, tugboat, ship, passenger, and recreational vessel operations on the rivers (particularly including the Ohio River, Monongahela River, Allegheny River, Kanawha River, Big Sandy River, Mississippi River) and the Great Lakes, and the unique federal admiralty and maritime laws and U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulations which govern these operations, and claims and lawsuits for serious personal injury or death. Recreational and pleasure boating accidents, including those involving personal watercraft like Jet Skis®, Sea-Doos®, and WaveRunners®, often involve admiralty and maritime law.

Round the Clock Availability

We are available, particularly in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, and throughout the inland waterways, on a 24/7 basis, to respond to the scene of accidents involving serious personal injury and death of passengers or crew (such as deckhands, mates, pilots, captains, engineers, cooks) and property damage caused by barge breakaways, barge and towboat sinkings, vessel collisions and allisions. We know how to gather important evidence, obtain witness statements, and work with U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and other state and federal officials to protect your legal rights.

We Know the Law Applicable on Navigable Waterways

We know the Inland Rules, also called the “Rules of the Road” which often govern vessel accident, personal injury, wrongful death, and collision and allision cases. We know the unique admiralty and maritime law procedures, presumptions, and defenses, such as the Vessel Owners’ Limitation of Liability Act, which apply in admiralty and maritime accident cases. Admiralty and maritime law usually applies in vessel and boat accidents, even those involving recreational / pleasure vessels, including Jet Skis®, Sea-Doos®, WaveRunners®, speedboats, ski boats, and other power boats. The determinative factor is usually whether the accident occurred on or adjacent to a “navigable waterway.” Feel free to call us and we can explain this further.

Contingent Fee Representation: No Recovery, No Fee

We handle serious personal injury and death cases on a contingent fee basis. We also advance the costs for the lawsuit, including the fees of court reporters, experts, and consultants. This means a client will not owe us a fee unless and until there is a settlement or judgment in the client’s favor. When/if such occurs, the client would then owe us the agreed-to fee and any case expenses (such as court reporter charges, medical records fees, expert witness fees, etc.) which the client had previously agreed in writing were also its responsibility.

Legal Representation for Coast Guard Licensed Mariners

Licensed mariners call on us for legal representation in Coast Guard Civil Penalty actions and Coast Guard license Suspension & Revocation proceedings. We also handle U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permitting issues and litigation under the Shipping Act of 1984.

View and Subscribe to Our Free Blog: Towboatlaw – Towboat and Barge Lawyer: Admiralty & Maritime Law on the Rivers

To stay updated on state and federal court admiralty and maritime law court decisions that impact the lives and livelihoods of towboat and other commercial vessel crewmembers, to view current posts, and subscribe to e-mail notice of new posts to Fred Goldsmith’s internet blog, Towboatlaw – Towboat & Barge Lawyer: Admiralty & Maritime Law on the Rivers, click on the BLOGS link atop this website or visit http://towboatlaw.wordpress.com.

Admiralty and Maritime Law FAQs

FAQs for Commercial Vessel Crewmembers

Q: I’m a regular worker on a commercial vessel, such as a towboat, and I was hurt on the job. Is my work-related injury covered by workers’ compensation?

A: No. It’s a Jones Act case. As opposed to the majority of workers in the U.S., when a maritime worker who is a regular crewman of a vessel in navigation, a worker called a “seaman,” is injured on the job, federal law, a statute called the Jones Act, governs the worker’s right to compensation for his or her injury.

Q: What is the Jones Act?

A: Congress passed this special federal law to protect vessel crewmen due to the dangers of working aboard ship. Under the Jones Act, a vessel crewmember, or seaman, injured on the job can file a lawsuit seeking to recover, among other things, his or her past and future lost wages and benefits, past and future medical expenses, past and future pain and suffering, and past and future loss of enjoyment of life.

Q: Do I have to prove my employer was negligent in my Jones Act case?

A: Generally, yes. Unlike “no fault” workers’ compensation laws, the vessel crewmember in his or her Jones Act case must prove that his employer was negligent — in other words the employer failed to provide a reasonably safe place to work. In a Jones Act case, however, the burden of proof the seaman has to shoulder is less than in a typical non-Jones Act negligence case, such as cases involving a slip and fall on a sidewalk or a car accident. This is often described as a “featherweight” standard. In fact, the seaman only has to prove that his employer was negligent in some manner and that the employer’s negligence played a slight role in causing his or her injury, which standard is very favorable to the vessel crewmember. In sum, it does not matter that the employer’s negligence is relatively minor compared to the injuries suffered. As explained further below, however, in some situations the seaman does not even have to prove his or her employer was negligent.

Q: What happens if I contributed to causing my injury?

A: Under the Jones Act, even if the seaman contributed to causing his or her injuries, the seaman is not precluded from recovering damages. Rather, any award of damages will be proportionately reduced by the percentage of the seaman’s negligence. Lawyers call this “comparative negligence” or “comparative responsibility.” Therefore, if the seaman is awarded $200,000 in damages and the jury finds the seaman 50% responsible for causing his or her injuries, then the damages would be reduced by 50% to $100,000. And in a maritime personal injury case, “pure comparative causation” applies, which means the plaintiff can win his or her lawsuit and recover damages, even if they are 99% at fault – the money damages they collect will just be proportionately reduced. But, if the jury finds the employer violated a federal safety statute or regulation intended to protect seamen, such as a Coast Guard regulation, and the violation caused the seaman’s injuries, then the total amount of damages will not be reduced, regardless if the seaman contributed to causing their injury.

Q: What other claims can a regular crewmember, or “seaman,” aboard a commercial vessel bring in a lawsuit if they are injured?

A: In addition to a claim for “negligence” under the Jones Act, a seaman has two other claims which are routinely brought, both of which are non-statutory and thus instead arise under judge-made law, called the “general maritime law.” These claims are (1) a claim for unseaworthiness and (2) a claim for maintenance and cure.

Q: What’s an unseaworthiness claim?

A: An unseaworthiness claim is one which can only be brought by a “seaman.” It is brought against the owner or operator of the vessel upon which the seaman was hurt. To win this claim, the seaman only has to prove that the vessel or its appurtenances were unseaworthy and that the unseaworthy condition caused or contributed to cause the accident. A vessel is “unseaworthy” when it or its appurtenances are not reasonably fit for their intended purpose. An unseaworthy condition could be defective equipment, such as a broken ratchet or winch, or another condition of the vessel, such as being undermanned, or too few crewmembers being assigned to perform a task. A vessel owner or operator has an absolute, non-delegable duty to provide a seaworthy vessel for the seamen who work aboard it. The causation standard for an unseaworthiness claim is a bit harder for a seaman to prove than in a Jones Act negligence case: the seaman must prove that the unseaworthy condition was the “proximate cause” of the accident. A seaman can recover the same types of damages under an unseaworthiness claim as under a Jones Act negligence claim, and the same rules of pure comparative causation apply.

Q: What’s a maintenance and cure claim?

A: Under the general maritime law, a seaman who is injured or becomes ill while in service of his or her ship is entitled to reasonable and necessary medical care paid for by his or her employer until they have reached maximum medical improvement, or are “cured.” This is “cure.” Seamen, while they are convalescing and until they reach maximum medical improvement are also entitled to reasonable and necessary living expenses. This is called “maintenance.” If an employer willfully and wantonly disregards its maintenance and cure obligation, the seaman can recover the maintenance and cure, attorney’s fees spent in securing the maintenance and cure, and, the U.S. Supreme Court held recently, punitive damages. To win a maintenance and cure claim, the seaman does not have to prove the employer was at fault, because fault, and issues of negligence, unseaworthiness, and causation, have nothing to do with these claims.

Q: How long can I wait before filing my maritime personal injury case?

A: The statute of limitations, which sets the deadline for when you have to file your lawsuit, is three (3) years under the Jones Act, and most courts apply this same three-year period for claims for unseaworthiness and maintenance and cure, although there are limited exceptions to this rule. One exception is called the “discovery doctrine,” such as when an injury or disease takes years to show up. In this situation, the seaman must file his or her lawsuit within three years from the date he or she knew or should have known in the exercise of reasonable care that the occupational disease was related to their working for the maritime employer. Regardless, we recommend you not wait this long. As soon as you are involved in an accident or believe you may be suffering from a work-related illness, we recommend you contact a lawyer immediately. When people wait to file a lawsuit, documents tend to disappear, memories fade, and the scene of the accident may change.

Q: I’m a seaman. Can my spouse file a loss of consortium claim if I am injured?

A: Until the early 1990s, the answer was “yes.” Then federal court decisions changed the answer to “no.” Recently, there are some new federal court decisions suggesting the answer may be “yes” again.

Q: Can a lawsuit be filed under the Jones Act on behalf of a deceased seaman?

A: Yes. The Jones Act permits the personal representative of the deceased seaman to file both a survival action and wrongful death action against the maritime employer.

FAQs for Recreational Boaters

Q: Does federal admiralty and maritime law apply to the operation of my pleasure boat?

A: It depends. If your boat is operated on a “navigable waterway of the United States,” such as the Monongahela, Allegheny, or Ohio Rivers, an ocean or bay, or one of the Great Lakes, then the answer is “yes.” If, however, you operate your boat on a land-locked lake wholly within one state, or a waterway which is not “navigable in fact” — for instance if there are man-made or natural obstructions which currently prevent navigation on the body of water, then the answer is “no,” and state (versus federal admiralty and maritime) law will apply.

Q: What are some examples of how federal admiralty and maritime law may apply to my pleasure boat and what is the significance of whether I operate my boat on “navigable waters of the United States”?

A:

  1. The federal Rules of the Road, a/k/a Inland Navigational Rules apply on navigable waters of the United States.
  2. A federal court would likely have “admiralty jurisdiction” to hear a lawsuit involving an accident in which your boat is involved, or various contracts involving your boat.  Even if your “boat” is a Wave Runner™ or other type of personal watercraft, federal admiralty and maritime law may still apply.
  3. The Vessel Owners Limitation of Liability Act would be likely to apply when your boat or another recreational or commercial vessel is involved in an accident on “navigable waters of the United States.”  This Act may in certain circumstances allow you and your insurance company to limit your liability to the post-accident value of your boat.
  4. Special rules concerning marine insurance may also apply, and you or your marine insurer may be able to file a lawsuit concerning your boat insurance in federal (versus state) court.
  5. The U.S. Coast Guard has jurisdiction on navigable waters of the United States.
  6. If your boat is involved in an accident, special federal admiralty and maritime law presumptions as to who is at fault may apply.
  7. The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 may apply.
  8. Your boat may be liable for a “salvage” claim and lien if your boat is towed or rescued, and you may be entitled to make a salvage claim and assert a lien if you rescue another boat or boater.
  9. If others provide a service to your vessel and you fail to pay for it, that service provider may have a “secret” maritime lien on your vessel and they may be entitled to have your vessel arrested and sold to satisfy the lien.

Admiralty and Maritime Law Post-Accident Checklist

  1. If you or others are injured, call 911 for EMS and, if applicable, local or state police, sheriff, etc.  Following a commercial vessel accident on U.S. navigable waters, meeting certain thresholds (http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/cfr_2008/octqtr/pdf/46cfr4.05-1.pdf), the owner, agent, master, operator, or person in charge must immediately (24/7) notify (call) the nearest USCG Sector Office, Marine Inspection Office, or Coast Guard Group Office, followed within five (5) days by a written report on USCG Form CG-2692 (http://www.uscg.mil/forms/cg/CG_2692.pdf).  U.S. commercial vessel operators must also comply with USCG post-accident drug & alcohol testing and reporting regulations.  Oil and chemical spills must be immediately (24/7) reported to the National Response Center (http://www.nrc.uscg.mil/nrchp.html) (800-424-8802 or 202-267-2675) and any other applicable state and/or local agencies.

  2. If no EMS/hospital treatment is obtained, see your own doctor or hospital Emergency Room ASAP, as your medical condition indicates.

  3. Get photos, even with a cell phone or disposable camera, of the accident scene, vessels, vehicles, equipment, products, involved.

  4. If possible, preserve the accident scene and any vessels, equipment, or products, involved, until it can be investigated.

  5. Write down the name, address, and phone number of all witnesses.

  6. Immediately report the accident (if aboard a vessel, to the captain or other in charge), orally and in writing, describing the highlights of how all persons, vehicles, equipment, and/or products played a part.

  7. Try to avoid discussing the accident or giving a written or recorded statement until you have the opportunity to talk to your lawyer.  If aboard a commercial vessel and a Coast Guard investigation is underway, most USCG personnel will allow you to have a lawyer present.  You can call G&O 24/7 toll free at 1-877-404-6529 (1-877-40-GO-LAW).

Free Post-Accident Credit Card Style Checklist

If you’d like us to mail you a free credit-card style heavy duty plastic post-accident checklist (see below) with our 24/7 contact info on the other side, just call us (412-281-4340 or 877-404-6529) or send us an e-mail and we’ll get one right out to you.