If you have been on a cruise ship or commercial vessel, you likely walked on the ship’s gangway. A gangway is like any other part of a ship – it can cause an accident if it is not properly maintained, designed, or constructed. What makes a gangway particularly dangerous is the fact that it rises and falls with the tides, which increases the risk of an accident.
Slip and fall gangway accidents are not expected. People walking on a gangway normally do not take the time to closely inspect it for potential hazards. Why should you? A vessel owner owes a heightened duty to provide a safe way to get on and off a ship.
Common Reasons for Gangway Accidents
Most gangways are constructed out of aluminum and are comprised of several different components. The walkway normally has adhesive strips or is built out of diamond plate to provide additional traction. Both of these items can wear down over time and may not provide sufficient traction in the event of a spill or buildup of slippery residue.
The handrails on a gangway can be constructed out of aluminum or, in some instances, rope. Handrails can develop problems overtime and in some instances fail. Vessel owners can install netting around a gangway to prevent someone from having a potentially life threatening fall in the event of a fall or collapse. However, few vessel owners take this safety precaution even though the cost is minimal and the upside is potentially saving a life or avoiding a severe injury.
Other components of a gangway can wear out over time including metal flaps, struts, hooks, wheels, and other parts that makeup the gangway. A metal flap can loosen and cause a tripping hazard over time.
Cruise ships and vessel owners must regularly inspect and maintain the gangway. This includes maintaining items that wear out over time or replacing and repairing portions of the gangway that are no longer in good condition.
Like any walkway, there is the potential for spills and slippery substances that pose a significant risk of harm. In light of the risk of harm from a potential gangway accident, a ship owner is obligated to inspect and monitor the gangway especially when it is expected to be used. If there are slippery substances or residue on the gangway, it must be removed by the vessel owner. Failure to consistently inspect the gangway for dangerous substances can support a negligence claim.
The fact that a gangway rises and falls with the tide presents situations where the incline may pose an unreasonable risk of harm. At high tide, a ship owner should consider if the gangway is at a dangerous incline. While some maritime workers may be use to dealing with steep inclines, for most people, walking across a gangway with a steep incline/decline can be nerve wracking or worse, cause an accident.
Does Maritime Law Apply to Gangway Accidents?
One question that is sometimes asked is if the gangway is part of the vessel. It is. Maritime generally law applies to everything attached to a vessel. This includes all appearances including gangways. Moreover, the Admiralty Extension Act makes clear that maritime jurisdiction extends to all tortious (negligent) conduct that involves a vessel located on navigable waters, including docks and piers.
Work Injuries on Gangways
Longshoremen, stevedores, dockworkers, and seamen, tend to utilize a gangway in their operations. When a maritime worker or seaman is injured on a gangway, he or she will likely have a viable claim for damages. Workers covered by the Longshore Harbor Workers Compensation Act are entitled to recover compensation benefits, medical expenses, and lump sum payments for permanent disability. Seamen injured on the job are generally entitled to a remedy against an employer under the Jones Act or doctrine of unseaworthiness to compensate for lost wages, medical expenses, lost earning capacity, general damages, and more.
For workers covered by the Longshore Harbor Workers Compensation Act, a vessel owner has a duty to turn over a vessel to the workers in a reasonably safe condition and a maritime worker injured by “vessel negligence” may have a claim under Section 905(b) of the LHWCA. A vessel negligence claim is different than a standard negligence claim in that the law assumes a maritime worker will be able to observe dangers on a vessel that are not hidden. A maritime worked injured on a gangway should consult with a maritime attorney to understand his or her legal claims against both an employer and vessel. ‘
Investigating Your Gangway Accident
Our team has handled gangway accident cases involving both passengers and maritime workers. If possible, following an accident, a person should try to take photos or videos of the accident scene, and also gather the names of any witnesses. Many cruise ships and maritime companies will conduct a root cause analysis following a reported accident. Sadly, the vessel owner is often primarily concerned with limiting its responsibility for the accident instead of truly understanding how the accident took place.
When brought into a case, our attorneys seek to understand how the accident took place. Sometimes the ship’s records demonstrate a history of poor maintenance or, even worse, past accidents. Although the vessel owner may claim that the victim’s own negligence caused the accident, from our experience, people do not cross gangways haphazardly and normally there is a condition that caused or contributed to the accident occurring.
One issue that sometimes arises is that the vessel owner will repair or even replace a problematic gangway following an accident. In law, this is called a subsequent remedial measure and it cannot be introduced to prove that the gangway was defective. The purpose of this rule is to encourage people and companies to take action to prevent future accidents. However, the condition of the gangway at the time of the accident is certainly relevant along with the history of maintenance and repairs.
Types of Injuries Caused by a Gangway Accident
A gangway accident can result in serious injuries. The most common injuries are serious but not life threatening and include cuts, abrasions, sprains, fractures and ligament damage. However, gangway accidents can result in fatal or life-threatening injuries.
Following a gangway accident, it is important to promptly receive medical treatment and follow your physician’s instructions. When medical treatment is delayed, it allows the defendant to argue that your medical condition was not very severe or not caused by the gangway. Moreover, refusing or failing to follow your physician’s instructions exposes you to the argument that your condition is not severe.
When To Call An Attorney Following a Gangway Accident?
If you were involved in a gangway accident, you should call a reputable maritime attorney as soon as possible. A cruise ship company or vessel owner will not voluntarily compensate you for items such as medical expenses, future medical expenses, lost wages, and damages for pain and suffering. A reputable maritime attorney will be able to present your compensation claim and file a lawsuit if necessary.
If you have been injured in a gangway accident, call Johns Law Group today at (866) 970-0977 to schedule your free no obligation consultation.