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Legal Blog

Aviation Injuries at Sea – Does Maritime Law Apply?

Aviation injuries at sea are a tragically common occurrence. Although airliner crashes at sea have become relatively rare, the rise of offshore resource extraction has caused an uptick in maritime aviation crashes involving small craft. Most offshore rigs are serviced by helicopter flights that operate in unpredictable and sometimes dangerous weather conditions, adding an extra layer of risk to an already dangerous profession. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the primary cause of fatal injuries for offshore oil and gas workers is transportation accidents.

When a plane or helicopter crashes at sea, it’s not always clear which laws should govern the compensation of the injured and the relatives of the deceased. Different laws will apply depending on where the crash occurred, what the purpose of the flight was, and where the occupants were working. If you or a loved one has been injured in an aviation accident at sea, call The Krist Law Firm, P.C. today at (281) 283-8500, or reach out online to schedule an initial consultation of your case with an experienced Houston maritime injury attorney.

Maritime Law May Apply to Aviation Accidents at Sea

Most crashes that occur over water are caused by bad weather or mechanical issues. In either scenario, being over water can make an emergency landing impossible. When these accidents do occur, the victims’ compensation may be governed by the following laws:

Jones Act

Many pilots ferrying sailors and supplies to and from ships may themselves qualify as seamen under the Jones Act. This is because the definition of a sailor under this law is someone who is employed by a vessel that operates in navigable waters and whose work contributes to the operation of the ship. Just because you are not on a ship at the time of the accident does not mean you can’t sue under the Jones Act. When you sue under the Jones Act, you are able to access a wide range of damages, including pain and suffering, medical expenses, and lost wages.

If you are a sailor who is either flying or being flown to a ship, and your helicopter crashes, you might be able to sue your employer under the Jones Act for negligence or unseaworthiness, or to not have the proper navigational or landing equipment to make a safe landing possible on the high seas. A recent Supreme Court ruling, however, has barred a sailor’s ability to recover punitive damages from their employer in an unseaworthiness case.

Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA)

This statute generally applies to accidents occurring on a platform or rig exploiting resources on the outer continental shelf, but in some cases, it might allow recovery after an aviation accident. The OCSLA allows an injured person to sue their employer for negligence, and also allows a deceased person’s family to recover compensation against the employer using the nearest state’s wrongful death statute. State wrongful death statutes are broader than the Jones Act, allowing for damages such as compensation for the loss of the victim’s care, comfort, and affection. But the situations where OCSLA applies to aviation accidents are limited. Per the United States Supreme Court, the victim or their family must show that there was a substantial connection between the injury and the employer’s extractive operations on the shelf. In other words, there must be a significant connection between the helicopter accident and the activities of the rig. Courts determine this issue on a case-by-case basis.

Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA)

Under U.S. law, the DOHSA was enacted in the 19th century to allow “recovery of damages against a shipowner by a spouse, child or dependent family member of a seaman killed in international waters.” As with the Jones Act, the suit may be based on either a claim of negligence or unseaworthiness. In more recent times, DOHSA has been used to give federal jurisdiction over wrongful death claims resulting from air crashes occurring beyond the territorial waters of the United States, or more than three-nautical miles offshore. DOHSA claims are limited to pecuniary damages only. That means that the claimants can only recover the financial contributions that the family member would have provided to the household, and the costs of the funeral.

A Houston Maritime Accident Lawyer Can Help You Today

When you get injured at sea, whether on a ship, on an aircraft, or on a platform, the decisions you make in the immediate aftermath of an accident can have a big impact on your financial future. You can settle with your employer now, agree to arbitrate your claim, or you can take your case to court. At The Krist Law Firm, P.C., we will thoroughly review your case, help you choose the best direction, and then advocate fiercely on your behalf at every stage of the process.

If you want to make sure you are on course for getting the compensation you deserve, contact us today at (281) 283-8500.