A man is suing two salmon farm companies – including his employer – in federal court in Bangor following a Maine workplace injury at a salmon farm that resulted in the amputation of two of his fingers on his dominant hand. WGME.com reports the worker is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages for losing his middle and ringer fingers on his right hand, claiming the two companies were negligent in failing to properly train employees and in failing to provide them with necessary safety equipment.
His attorney alleges the 22-year-old’s life will never again be the same, and he may never again be able to return to working on the water, something he loved. In addition, he’s alleged to be permanently disfigured.
This case is a bit different from most Maine work injury claims in that typically, workers are not able to sue their employers for compensation for such injuries. They can sue third parties for negligence, but the Maine Workers’ Compensation Act is considered the exclusive remedy available to employees who suffer work-related injuries, illnesses, or diseases against employers with workers’ compensation coverage. As long as the employer meets its obligation to provide workers’ compensation benefits, it’s immune from civil liability for injuries to employees. This immunity further extends to all of the company’s employees, supervisors, officers, etc. (meaning you can’t sue your co-worker or your boss).
There is an exception if you have been wrongly classified as an employee, when in fact you are an independent contractor. However, it’s usually the case that our Maine work injury lawyers are arguing employees have been misclassified as independent contractors by companies seeking to worm their way out of paying workers’ compensation benefits to deserving workers.
However, in this case, it seems the claim is being filed under something called the maritime law Jones Act. It’s less of an issue in other states, but Maine is largely surrounded by water, which fuels a number of important industries. Maine’s fishing industry topped $700 million in overall value last year. Furthermore, fishing is one of the most dangerous industries in the U.S. As noted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers in fishing industries often cope with long hours, strenuous work, harsh weather, and many other special hazards. There are a relatively small number of workers in this industry, but the risk of fatality to these workers is about 30 times what it is for those in all other industries. Of the 335 fishers and fishing workers who died on the job in a recent five-year period, 40 percent were self-employed, while the rest were wage and salary workers. Although some workers fish on their own boats, more often they are part of a company with an assigned crew.
Part of what the Jones Act does is formalize the rights of those who work at sea. It allows that any sailor who suffers injuries in the course of employment may choose to maintain an action for damages based on claims of unseaworthiness or negligence. The U.S. Supreme Court in the 1995 case of Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis issued guidelines for ascertaining whether an employee is a “Jones Act” seaman. Some considerations include the amount of time spent on the vessel in navigable waters (those who spend less than 30 percent of their time at sea aren’t eligible).
In this injury lawsuit, the plaintiff alleges he was removing salmon from pens in the Atlantic Ocean. However, there was no gang plank, so the worker was forced to grip a rope that ran between the barge and the pen to support himself. The site manager, who did not see the worker, reportedly activated a winch attached to the rope. The worker’s hand got caught in the winch, which jammed. Workers cut the rope to remove the hand, but his fingers could not be saved.
If you are a victim of a Bangor work accident, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-804-2004 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.
Maine man sues salmon farms over loss of fingers, Oct. 16, 2017, By Judy Harrison, Bangor Daily News
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