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How Maritime Law Applies to Oil Field Work

by | Jun 29, 2022 | Blog, Oilfield Accidents | 0 comments

Not many individuals realize that customary federal or state laws don’t govern oil field work. Maritime law, called admiralty law, is an international system that regulates offshore conduct. It applies to all seagoing ships, whether cruise ships, fishing boats, or oil rigs.

If you suffered injuries on the job, you might be wondering whether maritime law applies to oil and gas workers. The answer to this question is yes – you do have rights under maritime law as an oil or gas worker. You may seek and recover compensation for your medical care, lost wages, and perhaps other losses after an on-the-job injury.

Nevertheless, which maritime laws apply can greatly affect your case. This might include what you need to establish in your case and the damages or benefits you can recover. Thus, you may want to work with a maritime law lawyer to help you understand your privileges and legal choices and how the Jones Act can benefit you.

Table of Contents

How Does The Jones Act Apply to Oil and Gas Employees?

Per 46 U.S. Code §30104, commonly called the Jones Act, offshore workers may recover damages based on their injury or illness. Nevertheless, they must first satisfy the requirements set by this regulation for being a seaman.

A part of this test to resolve if workers qualify is that they must dedicate a significant portion of their working hours—usually more than 30 percent—to offshore work. Most oil and gas employees exceed this minimum effortlessly. This means they may use the Jones Act to cover them and help them get compensation.

You can get assistance understanding what the Jones Act does from a personal injury law firm that handles these suits. They can also resolve which maritime laws apply to your case and your best opportunities for getting paid.

When Does the Jones Act Not Cover Oil and Gas Employees?

Jones Act Affect Oil Rig Workers

There’s one primary reason why some oil and gas employees do not qualify as seamen and do not obtain the legal safeguards given by the Jones Act. This applies to employees who labor onshore or on oil platforms.

The Jones Act only covers navigable ships, not moored or permanently docked vessels. A fixed oil platform is always on the ocean floor. If this applies to where you labor most of the time, you may not meet the standards of the Jones Act.

Just because you don’t qualify as a Jones Act seaman does not mean you do not have legal privileges, though. You may still have protection and seek compensation under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA). The LHWCA will probably apply if your oil or gas rig doesn’t meet the Jones Act definition of a qualifying vessel.

What Is the Distinction Between the Jones Act and the LHWCA?

The Jones Act, the LHWCA, and maritime law allow seeking compensation following a negligent injury or an unseaworthiness claim. If you were working and suffered damages, you should have a path to seek and recover benefits. The Jones Act and LHWCA provide further causes of action and types of damages recoverable over general maritime law.

The Jones Act provides a more comprehensive range of recoverable damages. Nevertheless, there are weaknesses. These actions are insurance claims or civil suits against your employer, the vessel owner, or another liable party. You can arrange a settlement or take the case to a jury trial.

This process can be long, but you can recover:

  • Medical care expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering damages

The LHWCA typically delivers a quicker turn-around and functions much more similar to a standard workers’ compensation case. The damages recoverable are usually restricted to wage losses and medical treatment coverage unless there are permanent injuries or death, when additional benefits may be available.

What Laws Apply to the Safety of Offshore Oil and Gas Rig Workers?

Like other maritime employees, oil and gas rig workers have the right to fair working conditions with proper safety measures despite the risky nature of the job. Offshore oil and gas rig employees are protected by several laws, including the Jones Act, the Longshore & Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, and the Outer Continental Shelf Land Act. The relevance of any of these laws depends on where the accident happened, the job duties of the injured worker, and the accident’s circumstances.

The Jones Act & Worker’s Compensation

The Jones Act started in 1920 as the Merchant Marine Act. At the time, sailors hurt at sea had no legal way to seek payment. Traditional workers’ compensation did not apply, and maritime law had no match. When presented, the Merchant Marine Act allowed injured sailors to support an action for their damages. It’s been revised several times since enactment, known today as the Jones Act.

Initially, the Jones Act only applied to boats and barges. However, as of a 2005 court ruling, oil rigs became qualified as vessels under the Jones Act. This means the Jones Act covers oil rig workers.

The term “employment” is essential. The definition may differ depending on whether the employee is a blue water seaman (that sleeps on the ship) or a brown water seaman (that goes home at night). A brown water seaman’s privileges under the Jones Act may end when they step off the boat. However, those rights may extend for a blue water seaman even if their injury happens while onshore or while going to and from work.

Types of Compensation Under the Jones Act

Workers’ compensation under the Jones Act might provide two types of compensation: maintenance and cure.

Both types of payment are available regardless of who is legally at fault. Here’s a quick summary of each:

Maintenance

Maintenance refers to money paid to an injured employee while they recover. It covers the worker’s living costs, including rent, food, utilities, insurance, and even travel costs if medical treatment demands them. The number offered will hinge on your typical cost of living.

Cure

A cure is restitution for actual medical care. This includes compensation for physician visits, medications, physical therapy, counseling, or whatever you need to return to full health. Nevertheless, it does not include the cure of any permanent effects or disabilities.

The Jones Act allows employees to seek more compensation in a jury trial. While there is no need to establish fault to receive maintenance and cure, workers who can prove negligence can gain compensation beyond the Jones Act.

Negligence can include:

  • Poor or inadequate training
  • Lack of appropriate safety gear
  • Poor vessel upkeep and maintenance
  • Other similar acts or omissions​

Other Relevant Laws

Though the Jones Act is one of the most critical resources to be aware of, it’s not the only defense available.

A few other regulations can assist, including:

  • Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA): This pays families and dependents of maritime and oil rig employees who die due to employer negligence.
  • Oil Pollution Act (OPA): This compensates employees for damages from an oil spill, refinery incident, or another oil-related accident.
  • Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation (LHWCA): This defends maritime workers in non-seaman professions, including employees on oil rigs.
  • Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA): This extends LHWCA safeguards to workers of rigs that search for and extract oil and other resources on the outer continental shelf.

The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act

The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) is a federal statute that provides for the payment of compensation, medical care, and vocational restoration services to workers disabled from on the job injuries that happen on the navigable waters of the United States or in connecting areas customarily used in the loading, unloading, fixing, or construction of a vessel.

The LHWCA also pays survivor benefits to dependents if the work injury causes or contributes to the worker’s death. These benefits are generally compensated by the self-insured employer or by a private insurance company on the employer’s behalf. 

Injury includes occupational illnesses, hearing loss, and illnesses arising out of employment.

Who Has LHWCA Coverage?

The LHWCA covers workers in traditional maritime fields such as longshore workers, ship-repairers, shipbuilders or ship-breakers, and harbor construction employees. The injuries must happen on the navigable waters of the United States or in the adjoining areas, including piers, docks, terminals, wharves, and areas used in loading and unloading vessels.

Non-maritime employees may also have coverage if they work on navigable water and their injuries occur there.​

Who Does Not Have Coverage From the LHWCA?

The LHWCA specifically excludes:

  • Seamen (masters or members of a crew of any vessel);
  • Employees of the United States government or any state or foreign government;
  • Workers whose injuries were caused exclusively by their intoxication; and
  • Workers whose injuries were due to their willful intention to harm themselves or others.

If a state workers’ compensation law covers them, the LHWCA also excludes:

  • Those employed solely to perform office clerical, secretarial, security, or data processing work;
  • People employed by a club, camp, recreational operation, restaurant, museum, or retail outlet;
  • Those employed by a marina who do not build, replace, or expand the marina (except for routine upkeep);
  • People who (A) are employed by suppliers, transporters, or vendors, (B) are temporarily doing business on the premises of a maritime employer, and (C) are not engaged in work typically performed by employees of that employer covered under the Act;
  • Aquaculture employees;
  • People employed to construct any recreational vessel under sixty-five feet in length, to fix any recreational ship, or dismantle any part of a recreational vessel in connection with the repair of such vessel; and
  • Small vessel workers if they are exempt by certification of the Secretary of Labor under certain conditions.​

What Are Maritime Law Claims?

Under maritime laws, seamen and maritime workers have protection when they become hurt at work. It doesn’t matter if you work at sea, in the shipyard, or on an oil rig; you have rights.

Maritime claims address problems that might be unrelated to an injury. When a case qualifies for a maritime claim, a lawyer will often examine the case facts to decide if their client qualifies for a Jones Act claim.

Cases under maritime law range from fisherman injuries to passenger ship accidents. They can involve on-the-job accidents or off-the-job incidents.

Maritime law is an area that governs vessels and any accidents at sea.

Everyone is entitled to basic rights under these maritime laws:

  • Ship Owner Duties: Any shipowner with passengers must supply reasonable care to those people. If they were negligent and an injury happens, passengers have the right to file a lawsuit and collect damages.
  • Maritime Liens: These laws permit seamen and creditors to file a lien against a business or vessel as security to collect the money due.
  • Ship Owner Duties to Crew: Owners of vessels must maintain the ship and care for any injured crewmen. This includes supplying free medical care, including long-term or permanent medical care when required.

Most maritime law claims fall under federal court jurisdiction. Nevertheless, most cases now can go to the state level under Title 28 of the U.S. Code. A case will go to federal court only when involving maritime property.

What Is a Jones Act Claim?

Jones Act claims shields seamen. It doesn’t cover all accidents like maritime law claims. Rather, it concentrates only on those qualified as seamen who work on an operative vessel or fleet of ships. The semen must also demonstrate the negligence of the vessel’s owner, crew, or employer.​

Are You a Seaman?

Seamen refers to anyone assigned to a ship that can navigate open waters—and the job responsibilities of that individual contribute specifically to the vessel. You must spend 30 percent of your working hours on the vessel.

Individuals who normally qualify as a seaman include:

  • Deckhands
  • Cooks
  • Housekeeping
  • Stewards
  • Crew members
  • Engineers​

How Does the Jones Act Protect Injured Employees?

The Jones Act makes sure that any time a seaman is hurt or becomes sick, the owner of that vessel must pay back their losses. The reimbursement is the maintenance and cure requirement. Thus, the law mandates that the vessel’s owner pay for the damages until the seaman fully recovers.

Some expenses you might recover under a maritime claim include:

  • Hospitalization
  • In-home nursing care
  • Long-term rehabilitation
  • Doctor appointments
  • Vocational training
  • Emotional health
  • Monetary counseling
  • Lost profits
  • Lost earning capacity

If you labor on an offshore oil rig, Jones Act protections may apply.​

Know Your Rights

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After an accident, meet your emotional, medical, and financial needs.

  • You have the right to choose your doctor: Under maritime regulations, you have the right to select your physician, and you do not have to use the one the insurance company or the vessel owner offers. While you might need to see a recommended physician for a claim’s evaluation, they do not need to be your treating doctor.
  • You must get medical treatment: Obtain medical procedures and get reimbursement for those expenses. Similarly, you have protections against physicians who work for an insurance company that refuses to pay for what it calls excessive treatments.

You have the right to compensation for pre-existing conditions, too.

How to Report a New Injury

What should I do if I am hurt on the job?

  • Inform your supervisor or employer representative immediately or as soon as possible.
  • If you need medical attention for your injury, you should get treatment as soon as possible.
  • You are entitled to select a doctor of your choice to treat the effects of your injury. It will be best to ask your employer for a Form LS-1, Request for Examination and/or Treatment, which authorizes medical treatment. Nevertheless, you may request authorization from your employer or its insurance carrier after obtaining emergency treatment in a medical emergency.

Recording a statement is not necessary. The insurance company or vessel owner might approach you and ask that you give a recorded statement, but there is no legal necessity for you to do so. Rather, consult with a maritime injury lawyer before discussing any accident details.

What Is My Responsibility to Report My Injury?

You must give written notice of injury to the employer within 30 days of the incident or within 30 days of when you knew that you had an employment-related injury or disability. It is best to use Form LS-201, Notice of Employee’s Injury or Death, for this purpose.

What if I Do Not Report the Injury to My Employer Within 30 days?

You can endanger your entitlement to compensation benefits if you fail to report the injury by the deadline. The law may forgive this failure if you have a good reason or if the employer is not biased by getting the notice later.

Failing to report the injury within 30 days will not prevent you from receiving the necessary medical care to treat your work injury.

How Do I File a Compensation Claim?

Along with the Notice of Injury given to your employer, you need to file a written claim with the OWCP within one (1) year after the date of injury; or, if the employer has been willingly paying compensation benefits, you should file a written claim within a year of the last payment of compensation.

You need to use Form LS-203, Employee’s Claim for Compensation, to file your written claim. If you or your attorney do not file a written claim with OWCP within the deadline, the employer may object and deny compensation benefits if the injury disables you.

How Can a Maritime Law Lawyer Assist Me With My Claim?

If you retain a maritime law lawyer to help with your claim, they will provide wisdom and guidance about:

  • The relevant maritime laws in your case
  • Analyzing your case and collecting evidence to establish negligence
  • Valuing your claim based on the evidence obtained

Under 46 U.S. Code §30106, you may have three years to file a Jones Act lawsuit. You can have even less time under other maritime laws. Thus, get started and call a Jones Act lawyer as soon as your injuries allow.

If you need assistance in your case contact us and receive your free consultation.