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Maritime Work Accidents: Legal Keys

Spain is a country with many kilometers of coastline and with busy maritime cabotage routes, which includes fishing boats, container carriers, oil, and gas tankers, among others.

Unfortunately, maritime work accidents are frequent and are usually caused by deficiencies in compliance with safety regulations, for which the shipowner or even the classification and certification societies may be responsible. Fires, explosions, displacement of loads, sinking, are among the many causes that can cause damage or death to the workers of a ship.

Finding a competent jurisdiction and ensuring adequate compensation in the event of damage or death of a marine worker can be complex. In Spain, the opening of criminal investigations is common, if the Spanish courts consider themselves territorially competent. Within the framework of these legal proceedings, civil liability may also be agreed upon, together with insurance measures if there is a risk of insolvency or resistance to payment.

Protection from accidents at work at sea. Background in Spain

Protection against maritime work accidents has a long history in Spain. Already in the fourteenth century, the Confraternities of mareantes had social welfare tools to react in the face of misfortunes, such as accidents, captures, disappearances, or illness.

These institutions gave way to works such as the Olerón Trials, the Book of the Consulate of the Sea, and, later, the modern Commercial Codes. But it is the Work Accident Act of 1900 that for the first time regulated maritime work accidents as we understand them today.

As we can see, the Spanish Legal System has always paid attention to accidents at sea and the particularities of maritime work. Aware of its peculiarities, the legislator ended up progressively equating accidents at sea with accidents at work.

Thanks to this equalization, as long as the maritime accident is considered a work accident, the injured person will have the right to better benefits from Social Security. In your case, it will also open the doors to claim compensation from the company and its insurer. Let’s see, therefore, when we are facing a maritime work accident and how to act in this situation.

Maritime work accidents in the provision of services for others

Maritime workers employed by others have a protection system practically similar to that of any other employed worker. Therefore, a maritime work accident is considered to be that suffered on the occasion or as a consequence of work performed for someone else.

To this general concept must be added:

  • In itinere accidents. These are accidents suffered while going to or returning from the workplace. Note that in this case, we are talking about a trip to or from the workplace to provide services. In other words, accidents on a mission (those that occur while providing labor service) are not accidents in itinere, but accidents at work without more.
  • Those suffered on the occasion or as a result of holding elective union positions.
  • Those suffered on the occasion or as a result of tasks that, without being part of their job, have been entrusted to them by the employer or carried out spontaneously in the interest of the proper functioning of the company.
  • Those that occurred in rescue acts and the like if they are related to work.
  • Diseases, not considered professional contracted as a result of the performance of the work. Also, those that are aggravated as a result of a work-related injury.
  • Consequences of the accident modified in its nature, duration, severity or termination due to intercurrent illnesses.

As long as the accident fits into any of these concepts and is suffered during time and in the workplace, it will be presumed that we are dealing with an occupational accident. However, it is important to note that the following will not be considered a work accident:

  • Due to force majeure unrelated to work, although insolation, lightning, and other similar phenomena of nature are not considered as such.
  • Or due to fraud or reckless negligence (not professional) of the worker.

Particularities of the Special Regime for Sea Workers

Labor legislation is aware that the ship, in time of navigation or work, is both the workplace and the residence of the worker. In other words, there is not only a special harshness and dangerousness, but work and rest times tend to be confused.

Such particularities affect, for example, the concept of the accident in itinere. Also to the presumption of occupational nature of the accident, since it is inevitable that the injured worker suffers the injury in his workplace.

In this sense, jurisprudence tends to make a broad interpretation of the work accident, considering as such all injuries whose absolute lack of relation to work cannot be proven.

Maritime work accidents in the provision of services on their own account

The consideration of the work accident for the self-employed has always been more restrictive. Thus, a direct relationship with work is required. So if in the case of employed persons it was enough that it could not be proven that the injury was related to work, in this case it will be necessary to prove the causal link for the injury to be considered a work accident.

In addition, some categories of the accident at work are canceled in this case. Thus, the self-employed worker cannot hold elective positions or perform tasks that are inappropriate for his job by order of the company. The presumption that the accident that occurred in time and place of work is of a labor nature does not apply to them either.

In summary, it is much more difficult to achieve that the maritime work accident of the self-employed professional is considered labor.

Investigation of maritime work accidents

As we can see, the key to determining whether we are facing a work accident will lie in determining its connection to work. In the case of employees, it will be enough to prove that there is no complete disconnection between the event and the job. While in the case of self-employed workers, such connection must be proven.

One must also be aware of the concepts connected with the work accident. Thus, according to INSST reports, the most frequent cause of the accident is the fall when embarking or disembarking, a concept that fits perfectly into the commuting accident in the case of employed workers, but which can be more complex in the case of self-employed workers.

One of the complexities when investigating the accident will be determining the competent authorities. For example, in Spain, the ITSS and the INSST or the CIAIM can intervene, depending on the flag of the vessel. Along the same lines, both the competent jurisdiction and the applicable law must be determined.

The result of this research, therefore, will allow us to determine:

  • Whether or not the accident can be considered work-related. This will be useful to know the benefits to which we will have access and the responsibility of third parties.
  • Determine the competent jurisdiction and, where appropriate, the liability of third parties. Which will allow us to study the legal possibilities within our reach, our expectations of success, and the responsible parties.

If you or any of your family members have suffered a maritime work accident in Spain, or during your journey through Spanish coastal waters, do not hesitate to contact us. Whether it is during the voyage, during mooring operations, or even during the ship’s stay in port.

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