A processor onboard the vessel AMERICA’S FINEST owned by Fisherman’s Finest Inc. suffered a serious foot injury while fishing near St. George Island in the Aleutian Islands west of Alaska. The processor’s injury was severe enough that the vessel requested a helicopter medical evacuation from the U.S. Coast Guard at 0230 on Thursday, March 17, 2022.
After initiating the medevac, AMERICA’S FINEST headed toward Dutch Harbor, Alaska, where the Coast Guard planned to take the processor after retrieving him from the vessel. The Coast Guard deployed an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter from the Cutter Alex Haley and simultaneously launched an HC-130 Hercules airplane from Air Station Kodiak to provide further support and observation.
Upon arriving at the vessel, the Dolphin helicopter lowered a rescue swimmer and hoisted the processor from AMERICA’S FINEST shortly before 1300 on March 17. Beyond the normal challenges of conducting aerial rescues at sea, the Coast Guard crew also had to contend with severe weather conditions including 15-foot seas, freezing ocean spray, and 30 mph winds occasionally gusting to 40 mph. The USCG’s ability to complete the rescue under such adverse conditions exemplifies the extreme skill and unique talents of the Coast Guard servicemen.
After picking up the processor, the helicopter proceeded directly to Dutch Harbor. The Coast Guard then transferred the processor to the care of a private medical evacuation service. Because of limited medical facilities and treatment options in Dutch Harbor, it is likely that the processor will be flown by a medevac plane to a hospital in Anchorage for further care.
FOOT INJURIES – AN ALL-TOO-COMMON HAZARD FOR COMMERCIAL FISHERMEN
Unfortunately, foot injuries are a common occurrence for commercial fishermen and other mariners on processors, longliners, seiners, and all other kinds of fishing vessels. The types of foot injuries that seamen can suffer run the gamut from lacerations through boots and crushing injuries from falling objects to broken ankles from slip and fall accidents and immersion foot syndrome, more commonly known as “trenchfoot.” Foot injuries should not be taken lightly and often necessitate immediate care to avoid exacerbating the condition.
Complications and issues related to foot injuries can include the following:
- Difficulty walking and attendant limitations in daily life
- The development of a short-term or permanent limp
- Infection and the risk of sepsis from infection spreading beyond the foot
- Disfigurement of the foot
- Early onset arthritis of the joints in the foot and ankle
- Development of bunions
- Pain radiating up the foot into the ankle and leg
- Surgical intervention including the potential need for joint fusions or the use of medical hardware
- The need for supportive care during recovery to assist with activities of daily living
- Mental anguish or depression resulting from the injury and recovery
Foot injuries to processors, commercial fishermen, and other seamen may occur due to Jones Act negligence of the employer or unseaworthy conditions on the vessel. Regardless of the cause of a foot injury and whether the employer, the vessel, or a third party is liable, a seaman who suffers an injury in service of a vessel is entitled to maritime benefits known as “maintenance and cure.” “Maintenance” payments cover the seafarer’s costs of daily living including rent, utilities, and foot. “Cure” benefits cover a seaman’s medical care related to the shipboard injury. These benefits must be paid by the seaman’s employer even if the seaman is partially at fault for his or her injury. An injured seaman is also entitled to unearned wages for the portion of his or her contract on the vessel that the seaman could not complete because of the injury.
If you suffer a foot injury while working as a fisherman or seaman, it is important to obtain treatment and to consult with an experienced maritime lawyer regarding your potential claims and rights to maritime benefits. The Jones Act attorneys at Trueb & Beard LLC – with attorneys licensed in Alaska, Washington, and Oregon – are available any time for a free consultation to discuss your injury and damages.