The Jones Act, in simple terms, allows maritime workers and others injured at sea the opportunity to recover compensation. The law applies to specific offshore vessels and various waterways, including the Gulf of Mexico. Sailors in waters that multiple states share are also eligible to use the Jones Act if an accident occurs.
The Jones Act is part of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 and applies to workers on various vessels like barges, oil rigs, ships, etc. Offshore workers do not have the same laws as employees who work on the land. When an employee suffers an injury on land, they qualify for workers’ compensation. Offshore workers will instead use the Jones Act to file an injury claim.
The parties that are responsible for an offshore worker injury include:
- The boat owner
- The captain
- The employer
You might hold other parties liable for a maritime worker accident. However, as a maritime worker, you must prove that your injury directly resulted from the other party’s negligence. While the Jones Act covers injuries to offshore oil workers and others, it also addresses other essential topics to the merchant marine system.
Who does the Jones Act cover?
One of the critical elements of the Jones Act is who is considered a seaman. This element is often the biggest legal concern in court. Essentially, the courts define a seaman as a person who has a permanent work assignment on a fleet of vessels. There are many exceptions even within that definition, and you must call a lawyer to protect your rights when you sustain an injury at sea.
The Jones Act covers many parties at sea, such as:
- Second mates
- Third mates
- First mates
- Tanker men
The list is endless and covers nearly any maritime person working offshore. Different laws apply to you if you are working on a sea-faring vessel onshore.
The Jones Act also covers several offshore industries:
- Crew boats
- Supply boats
In simplest terms, the Jones Act covers any seaman working on a vessel in a navigable waterway who sustains an injury during the course and scope of employment. While this definition sounds simple, it is often difficult to obtain compensation for an injury at sea. When a seaman or sailor suffers an injury at sea, you must call a lawyer to determine the best legal course to take.
What are blue water vessels?
There are various definitions related to the Jones Act. one definition to consider is a vessel. While it sounds simple to the average person as any watercraft, the law begs to differ.
You can assume the Jones Act covers:
- Jack-up barges
- Drill shops
- Workover rigs
- Crew boats
- Supply boats
Additionally, you must consider what navigable waterways are along with blue water vessels. Maritime law is complex, and there is room for error as naval technology advances. A blue water vessel is a watercraft that is foreign-flagged and owned and has a crew of non-U.S. citizens. Brown water vessels are more common, especially regarding the need for offshore drilling. The distinction between blue and brown water will depend on the use of the watercraft and how far into the water it goes. Bluewater vessels are also known as deepwater vessels because they venture into the deep sea. Think of a cruise ship that goes across the ocean; the watercraft comes into contact with a range of blue water and varying water depths.
What are your rights under the Jones Act?
The Jones Act’s legal jargon is different from other injury claims. Maintenance refers to the cost of supplying a seaman with room and board. Cure is money to cover medical care to get the injured seaman to maximum medical improvement.
While you have the right to these benefits under the Jones Act, many employers do not issue the payment required for a seaman to recover after an injury. However, a seaman has the right to garner this compensation after an injury. Do not allow your naval employer to deny you these rights and instead call a lawyer immediately.
Other rights under the Jones Act include:
- The right to a safe work environment
- The right to file a maritime accident lawsuit
- The right to additional compensation under certain situations
- The right to punitive damages under certain situations
What are expenses related to the Jones Act?
To determine how much your Jones Act injury case is worth, you must provide a lawyer with a list of your expenses. Keep all receipts after an injury. Your lawyer can help you compile an itemized list of your costs to recover the compensation you deserve.
Some sea injuries will cause:
- Medical bills
- Prescription expenses
- Transportation charges
- Out-of-pocket expenses
- Medical devices
An itemized list will help prove that the injury at sea was the cause of your ailments and financial damage. It is imperative to have these receipts handy when the injury resulted from another person’s negligence.
What were your injuries?
Your injuries will also determine how much your Jones Act case is worth. Because ships are enormous, the equipment to run them is also on the larger side. The size of the vessel and equipment leads to severe injuries by seamen.
Some serious injuries lead to:
- Long term suffering
- Lower quality of life
- Chronic pain
When you suffer a Jones Act injury that causes any of the ailments mentioned here, call a lawyer. While these items are difficult to prove, the Jones Act covers them. When an injury causes an intangible loss, the court finds it harder to award compensation, but with the help of a lawyer, the process becomes more manageable. It is also essential to note how the injury has affected your life.
Calculating your Jones Act Claim
Courts award punitive damages in rare cases. The total for your Jones Act claim relies on several factors.
You and your Jones Act lawyer must work together to add up:
- Out-of-pocket expenses
- Non-economic damages
- Medical expenses: You will have past, future, and ongoing medical costs after a maritime accident. Some injuries are unknown at the time of reaching maximum medical improvement. The caveat is future medical expenses should be reasonable. Examples of medical expenses include:
- Emergency services
- Hospital visits
- Counseling services
- Full-time nursing
- Diagnostic testing
- Physical therapy
- And more
- Inability to return to previous employment.
- Lost fringe benefits
- Pain and suffering: The category of pain and suffering covers a range of issues, including:
- Emotional distress
- Sexual dysfunction
- Sleep problems
- Mood swings
You must know what wage and fringe benefits you deserve under the Jones Act. When it comes to wage benefits, past wage benefits are calculated by analyzing what you were earning and how much you lost during your recovery. On the other hand, future wages are different and are where the complexities occur. Future lost wages will only be available when your injury prevents you from working or lowers the capacity in which you can work. A lawyer will work with a financial expert to calculate the loss of future earnings.
The calculation for future lost wages considers:
- Lost potential for a promotion
- Lost potential for a raise
- Working life expectancy
Non-wage-related benefits include:
- Health insurance
- Disability insurance
- Retirement benefits like 401(k)
Fringe benefits are essential to your Jones Act claim since you will lose substantial benefits. Maritime employers offer a range of fringe benefits, and you do not want to lose them.
The only way to garner an adequate claim is to have proof of your damage, and you can show that evidence through medical documents and receipts. Many other items are specific to your case that your lawyer will tally up to reach a final claim amount. As previously mentioned, you must keep all receipts together and share them with a lawyer.
How does a claim work?
There are two ways a lawyer can handle a Jones Act claim. The first is by going to trial, and the other is by accepting a settlement before litigation. A trial is a risk, and unless it is necessary, a lawyer will not advise you to take this route. The trial process is unpredictable, and you can come out on top or be left with nothing, depending on the jury’s decision. The Jones Act offers various protections for injured workers, and you must work with a lawyer to ensure your rights under the act are protected.
Essentially the claims process goes as follows:
- Report the injury to the captain or supervisor
- File an accident report
- Obtain medical attention
- Contact a lawyer
- Reach a settlement offer or file a lawsuit
There is no way to determine whether your claim will require a lawsuit or resolve through a settlement. A lawyer will look at all the facts and work to settle as quickly as possible that benefits you and your injury. If a lawyer cannot make any leeway, they will advise you to file a lawsuit and get the Jones Act compensation you are entitled to.
Is there a statute of limitations?
All seaman injury claims have limitations that require you to file a claim within an allotted period. Since maritime accidents are complex, the statute is three years from the injury. However, there are specific circumstances that can prolong this process. If you need additional time, work with a lawyer from the beginning. It can seem scary that your claim will take a long time to settle but do not fret as your lawyer is working on getting you the settlement offer you deserve.
Additional laws protecting maritime workers
Since the Jones Act is part of a larger span of maritime laws, other laws are in place to protect maritime workers.
Two of the most common naval laws are:
- Death on the High Seas Act: When a death occurs three nautical miles offshore, the surviving family can seek a wrongful death claim under this act.
- Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act: Workers on dry docks working on a sea-faring vessel can file an injury claim if they suffer an injury or illness on the job. Other areas injuries can happen are decks, cargo holds, piers or harbors.
Unpaid workers, passengers, and volunteers will have other legal options when an injury occurs. Cruise ship cases are incredibly complex since the ship visits many countries and even has specific sea days. The Jones Act does not cover an accident on a cruise ship. You will need to call a lawyer to discuss your legal options no matter what your status on a vessel is. A lawyer can sift through the details of your claim and determine the best legal route for your injury claim.
How does signing a release affect my case?
As with any other injury claim, your employer and their insurance company are not keen to dish out the money necessary to get you back on your feet. One way these parties will attempt to thwart your efforts to obtain compensation is to offer a settlement immediately and have you sign a release. The payment is low and does not cover future medical needs.
Do not sign a waiver without speaking to a lawyer.
When you sign a release or agree to a settlement, you relieve your employer of their duty to compensate you. Many releases will include a provision that does not allow any future claims for the same injury against the employer. Once a release or settlement is signed, you no longer have the right to bring any additional claims and will need to handle any issues that arise on your own. Speak with a lawyer when you receive an initial settlement offer or the company wants you to sign a release.
Call a Maritime Lawyer Today
If you suffered an injury on the job in the maritime industry, you are entitled to compensation under the Jones Act.
Call a maritime lawyer near you today to discuss your case.