When did you get your start in maritime law?
I got my start in maritime law around 1995.
My work involved representing marine insurance companies. That was about 20 years ago, but the experience taught me valuable lessons about how the industry works. It made me more effective in what I currently do, which is representing individuals injured on the water.
Cruise ship accidents/injuries is one area you offer your services in. Are these accidents rare?
Cruise ship accidents aren’t rare at all. With some of the larger ships, you’re taking 3,000+ passengers and putting them on a 120,000 ton ship with a 1,000 or so crew members. This floating city operates in different weather and sea conditions. People slip and fall on wet decks. Automatic fire doors can accidentally close on peoples’ hands. Drinks or other objects can fall from higher decks to lower decks.
Aside from accidents, there are incidents fueled by alcohol, such as assault cases. Sometimes, people are injured as a result of fires, equipment malfunctions, or operating errors. A well-known case involved the 2013 fire aboard Carnival Triumph, which left the ship crippled in the Gulf of Mexico for several days with more than 4,000 people on board.
In 2006, the cruise ship Crown Princess experienced an accident involving its steering system. This resulted in injuries after a list sustained during a turn caused passengers and objects to tumble and slide across decks.
Sometimes cruise ships hit other ships or underwater objects. In January 2012, the cruise ship Costa Concordia hit an underwater rock off the coast of Italy in the Tyrrhenian Sea with tragic consequences.
You have publications in several maritime magazines that focus on various aspects of law and the industry as a whole. Which of your publications has been the most “impactful” on readers in terms of the subject focus and feedback?
I like to hope that everything I write for the maritime industry is valuable, in that it could be helpful to someone, somewhere… whether they’re an able-bodied seaman on a container ship, commercial diver in the Gulf, or bartender on a cruise ship. But I realize it’s a big industry, and information that’s valuable for one person could be irrelevant for someone else.
I try to cover topics that focus on legal rights of commercial mariners, commercial divers, and shoreside workers. I like to research recent federal court decisions and present important information about key legal developments.
You mention this on your site: “One of the oddest quirks of maritime law that an experienced maritime attorney might come up against is limitation of liability.” Can you briefly explain some of the fundamental ways injury victims come up against brick walls with limitation of liability issue?
Yes, that limitation of liability law is some piece of work! But we have to keep in mind that like other peculiarities of maritime law, it evolved from reasoning that made lots of sense at the time. When the law first originated in 1851, it was designed to encourage the growth of commerce by giving a degree of protection to ship owners. However, the law came to be used almost automatically in any accident on the water involving vessels, from jet-skis to cruise ships.
Although limitation of liability can present a “brick wall,” there are ways to confront it. In many instances, it comes down to the issue of control over the operation of a vessel.
What are the main services of law you provide for commercial divers?
The services I provide for commercial divers are the same as those I provide for others in the maritime industry, whether in the services of a ship, shoreside employer, or as an independent contractor.
I provide legal representation in accident and injury cases. When this occurs within the service of a vessel, the cases can involve the Jones Act. While the Jones Act often applies in injuries involving commercial vessels, there are other laws that can come into play. This includes the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, or LHWCA, which generally covers shoreside employees.
Another law that can apply is the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA). It provides disability or death benefits for employees working in connection with the exploration, development, removal, and transportation of natural resources from the seabed of the Outer Continental Shelf. There’s also the Defense Base Act, which provides disability or death benefits for civilians working for contractors serving the U.S. government on military or naval bases.
It’s important to determine which set of laws is applicable in any given situation.
How has your previous experience in boating helped you when handling boating accidents and other situations?
Growing up around boats has definitely helped me in what I do. When I represent someone in an accident case, I try to put myself in their position. I try to picture the setting, in terms of visibility, sea conditions, and other factors.
It’s important to review an accident report thoroughly. But it’s also important to assimilate all those facts and envision what things were actually like at the time of an accident. In that regard, growing up around boats has definitely been helpful.
In your explanation of “What to do in a Jones Act” injury, you strongly emphasize documentation – photos, conversations, etc. In your experience, is this one of the primary areas lacking when covering Jones Act cases?
The absence of those things you mention, such as photos and conversations can present obstacles in a Jones Act case. Sometimes such evidence can be fleeting, in terms of people’s recollections or text messages. It’s important to gather all relevant evidence as early as possible.
With the second part of your question, I think reputable businesses take considerable effort to document things in a thorough manner. It’s the individual who is often at a disadvantage in terms of documenting what happened. They’re busy performing a weld on the underwater structure. They’re busy trying to squeeze themselves into a heat exchanger. They’re not in the business of investigation and documentation gathering. They’re in the business of doing their jobs as divers, mates, or tankermen.
What are some of the main ways that workers in the maritime industry can stay educated with changes and additions to laws and procedures?
A good way to stay current with laws and procedures is to keep up with the various publications in the industry. I realize this can get overwhelming because the industry has many different sectors. There are regulations that impact safety, pollution, machinery, security, mariner credentialing, drug testing and more. It’s a very daunting challenge to keep up with regulations in every different area.
Another means of staying educated is to take classes. Some of the larger employers conduct in-house training or arrange for vendors to provide training. If such programs are available, they can be worth looking into.
What’s one of the highlights of working in this industry for you?
I’m not sure if I have any single highlight that stands out more than others. I feel good when I’m able to help maritime workers who are injured and need someone in their corner to fight for them.
I know things can get tough if someone’s injured and in pain. In many instances, they’re not able to work…but the bills keep coming in. There could be obstacles in getting maintenance and cure. There could be delays created by administrative policies or standard operating procedures. If I can make it a better day for people in such tough situations, whether they’re a commercial fisherman, oil field diver, or tugboat mate, that’s a highlight of working in this field that makes it all worthwhile for me.
– Tim Akpinar, Attorney
Tim serves the industry as a Maritime Lawyer – Commercial Diving Accidents and Injuries. He has approximately two decades of experience in maritime law and multiple published law articles.