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Traumatic Brain Injuries and Maritime Workers

Maritime workers who often work under dangerous conditions with heavy equipment may be at increased risk for traumatic brain injuries from falls, falling objects and other hazards of work at sea.
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    LEAGUE CITY, TX, October 18, 2012 /24-7PressRelease/ -- An estimated 1.7 million Americans sustain a traumatic brain injury (TBI) each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A traumatic brain injury can occur from any type of trauma to the head, and some of the most common causes are auto accidents, falls and being struck by objects. Maritime workers who often work under dangerous conditions with heavy equipment may be at increased risk for traumatic brain injuries from falls, falling objects and other hazards of work at sea.

Injuries at Sea

Maritime workers work on many different types of vessels including oil rigs, barges, fishing boats and cargo ships. All of these environments carry with them unique hazards where severe injuries can occur if proper safety measures are not taken or mistakes are made.

Vessels may be poorly maintained, decks may be cluttered and crews may be shorthanded. These conditions can lead to maritime workers experiencing severe injuries including traumatic brain injuries. Examples of hazards that can result in severe maritime accident injuries include: slips on ship decks, crane booms hitting workers and workers being crushed between vessels.

Traumatic Brain Injury Symptoms and Effects

Medical providers may fail to recognize and treat brain injuries because absent the severe incident that risks brain swelling, medical providers tend to move on to treat more objective injuries like broken bones. It is therefore very important that people watch for symptoms of a possible traumatic brain injury following trauma to the head. These include: short term memory problems, difficulty concentrating or focusing, sudden and unexplained changes in mood, dizziness, headaches, sensitivity to light or noise and changes in sleep patterns. It is important to note that a traumatic brain injury does not always result in a loss of consciousness.

People who experience a traumatic brain injury may face a wide range of challenges in both the short and long term. Depending on which part of the brain was struck or penetrated, brain damage may impact cognitive functions, language skills, sensations or emotions. Examples of effects of a traumatic brain injury include:

- Difficulty with reasoning
- Memory loss
- Difficulty speaking or understanding language
- Loss of taste, touch or smell sensations
- Personality changes
- Depression, anxiety and aggression

Close to half of people hospitalized after traumatic brain injuries have permanent disabilities one year after the injury, which may impact their abilities to work and care for themselves on a daily basis. Problems lasting this long tend to be permanent, but coping skills and training can help. It is therefore important to get appropriate medical care and follow up. Traumatic brain injuries can also increase a person's risks for conditions like Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and other brain disorders that are more common as people become older.

Laws that Apply to Maritime Injuries

For workers injured at sea, special maritime laws often apply. These include the Jones Act, the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA) and the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA). An experienced maritime attorney can provide further guidance on how these laws may apply to your specific case.

Maritime workers face many perils. Normally, they ply their trade and try to steer clear of harm. They typically worry most about physical injuries, chief among them back injuries. But the maritime worker often is exposed to the far greater risk of a head injury. Be it from a fall, a parted cable, or numerous other risks that they face every day in the fast paced maritime industry.

A head injury, or traumatic brain injury is the seaman's worst nightmare. After a traumatic brain injury, many see the injured seaman as returned to normal when he is released from the hospital. Often, a traumatic brain injury leaves him in anything but a normal condition. The seaman may face long term memory loss, but more often than not, it is short term memory loss, problems with focus and concentration, and more troubling, changes in their normal personality. We frequently see depression, quick to anger or quick to sadden.

Some brain injuries are short lived with the victim returning to normal in six months or so. Sadly, many of the deficits persist. Once a year passes, the deficits are generally permanent. The question then arises, can a brain injury victim with permanent deficits return to his prior occupation as a seaman. The answer is no. As much as these brain injured individuals would like to return to their occupation as seaman, the risk to their health and others is simply too great. Often times, their deficits leaves them unable to appreciate this fact.

The problems these victims face are greater than most. They look normal, they want to return to work, but they can't and it is those closest to a brain injury victim that must most often bear the burden.

That being said, maritime law provides these victims with a better avenue of recovery than most. The Jones Act will provide for a recovery in most instances. It provides a lower standard of proof than most other remedies and injured workers should take full advantage of it.


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Scott Krist
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