The COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect communities around the world. According to data from the Texas State Department of Health Services (SDHS), the state reported more than 5,000 new COVID-19 infections on June 24th alone—a record high for any single day in Texas. Even as it accelerates, essential employees in many industries continue to work.
Some companies are now seeking a greater level of coronavirus-related liability protection. Recently, WorkBoat Magazine published a story on the barge industry’s effort to get an exemption against worker COVID-19 lawsuits. Here, our Texas maritime law attorneys provide an overview of the protections the barge industry is seeking and explain what it means for people in the industry.
A Major Trade Association Wants Congress to Give Companies More Liability Protection
American Waterways Operators (AWO) is a national trade association representing companies in the tugboat, towboat, and barge industries. It is a large and powerful lobbying organization that represents more than 300 commercial shipping companies throughout the United States.
The AWO wants federal legislators to pass a temporary bill to give its member companies additional liability protection against potential COVID-19 lawsuits from employees. As AWO President Jennifer Carpenter testified to a federal subcommittee, the lobby group wants liability protection for companies that make “good faith efforts“ to comply with “public health guidelines.”
Although that may not appear to be a large request at first glance, it would be a serious restriction on worker rights. Under the AWO’s proposal, companies could only be held liable if an employee proves exposure occurred because of reckless or willful misconduct. Such a bill would significantly narrow a maritime worker’s ability to hold a barge industry employer liable for workplace COVID-19 exposure.
Labor Unions: Businesses Must do More to Protect Vulnerable Workers
To be clear, not everyone is on board with the barge industry’s proposal. Quite the contrary, labor unions and workplace safety advocates are raising alarms that temporary legislation would pose a huge burden on the very workers who are already putting their health and safety on the line during the COVID-19 pandemic. They argue that too many commercial shipping industry companies are already doing too little to protect their employees from COVID-19 exposure. Reducing their liability would almost certainly embolden even more reckless conduct.
There are still many questions over how COVID-19 exposure cases are being handled by courts under the Jones Act. Many maritime workers have contracted the virus while at sea. Currently, a Louisanna based federal court is reviewing a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the widow of a man who died after allegedly contracting COVID-19 while working on an offshore vessel in the Gulf of Mexico.
Contact Our Houston, TX Maritime Lawyers for Immediate Assistance
At the Kolodny Law Firm, our Texas maritime law attorneys have the skills, knowledge, and experience to protect your rights. We focus on what matters—your case. If you have any questions or concerns about COVID-19 and maritime law, we can help. To set up a strictly confidential consultation, please contact our law firm right away. With an office in Houston, we represent clients throughout the region.