The Jones Act is part of the more significant Merchant Marine Act of 1920 and allows injured workers to file a compensation claim after an injury on a vessel. Essentially any maritime worker who suffers an injury while at sea will have benefits under the Jones Act.
However, the law has many different complexities, so not every seaman is eligible for these benefits, even if they think they are. While this is the case, not every employer will do the right thing and will try to deny you the help you deserve.
General maritime law applies to seamen, and it supersedes other laws. Maritime workers face unique challenges working on different watercraft under ever-changing conditions. Under general maritime law, seamen must receive maintenance and cure payments for any lost earnings they sustain for an on-the-job injury.
Seamen should have reasonably safe working conditions. When a naval employer does not maintain a safe working environment and an employee is injured, they must recover compensation for their injuries.
How do I know I qualify for the Jones Act?
While you might assume that every seaman receives benefits under the Jones Act, that is not always true.
Your lawyer will consider three status factors to determine your qualifications:
- Vessel assignment
Upon establishing these essential elements, the seaman must next show there was an injury and the damage resulted from negligence. Upon meeting these qualifications, a seaman can file a Jones Act claim. You must have informed the employer of the injury within 30 days. It is best to inform them immediately when the accident occurs to help your injury claim. If you do not qualify for the Jones Act, you can file a general maritime law claim instead.
Who is covered by the Jones Act?
Specific parties are eligible under the Jones Act, mainly sailors and seamen. However, there are specific qualifications you must meet as a seaman or sailor to tap into the Jones Act benefits. You must spend a minimum of 30 percent of your time in navigation while on a vessel. Your position must contribute to the function of the fleet.
A vessel in navigation is not dry-docked or inoperable. You must work on an operating watercraft, but not necessarily at sea, to obtain benefits. Qualifying under the Jones Act is complex, and you need to call a lawyer to ensure you qualify. If you do not qualify under the act, your lawyer can explore your other legal options.
What are common injuries for sailors and seamen?
The workplace for a sailor or seaman has many dangers and an ever-changing climate.
You can sustain many maritime injuries while on a vessel, including:
- Neck injuries
- Back injury
- Spinal cord trauma
- Crush injury
- Inhalation injury
- Vision loss
- Hearing loss
- Soft tissue injury
- Traumatic brain injury
Injuries for seamen will look different in each case, so you need to talk to a lawyer immediately. Many times the injuries will cause permanent impairment to the seaman requiring lifelong care.
What is a Jones Act vessel?
You must be working on a Jones Act vessel. If you are not on a suitable vessel, other laws may apply to your ability to obtain compensation.
Most Jones Act watercraft are:
- Cruise boats
- Tug boats
- Cargo ships
Cruise ships do not always fall under the Jones Act. Cruise ship cases vary depending on where the cruise ship docks or from where it sailing. Many different intricacies regarding cruise ships can change how a lawyer will handle a claim. Speak with a lawyer if you sustain an injury on a cruise ship or other vessel.
What is the statute of limitations?
Injury claims will have different statutes to consider. Regarding a Jones Act claim, you will have three years from the date of the injury to file a claim. Special circumstances can extend this deadline, but you must speak with a lawyer to meet all deadlines.
An extension is up to the court’s discretion barring substantial proof that your case cannot meet the ordinance.
Something else to consider is when an accident involves a government-owned vessel, the statute to file a claim is two years. If you don’t know who owns the boat, you must act quickly. The best way to protect yourself after a maritime accident is to speak with a lawyer.
What damages can I recover from the Jones Act?
You can recover damages if you suffer an injury during the scope and course of employment. The Jones Act will cover medical expenses.
Similar to other injury claims, you may recover additional damages for:
- Daily living expenses
- Lost wages
- Back wages
- Attorney fees
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Fringe benefits
While you can request damages in a Jones Act claim similar to other injury claims, this law provides for others. Maintenance and cure are specific to maritime accidents. Cure refers to the money you need to continue living how you previously had.
If you lived on the ship, you may receive care for room and board. These benefits will begin from the date of the injury until the seaman can return to work. While these are benefits under the Jones Act, there is no guarantee that you will receive them. You will need to call a lawyer to ensure you receive the payment you deserve.
Punitive damages and vocational training
An additional benefit the Jones Act provides is vocational rehabilitation. If you sustain a permanent maritime injury, you will be unable to return to your previous duties. Instead, you will need training on how to perform a new role. When the employer is responsible for your injury, they must pay for your re-training.
Courts award punitive damages in a few cases. When an employer acts intentionally and recklessly to cause an injury, may receive punitive damages. Proving and obtaining punitive damages is difficult, but a knowledgeable lawyer can do it.
How does maximum medical improvement work for my claim?
The premise of maximum medical improvement is beneficial to both parties. When you reach maximum medical improvement, there is no further improvement or treatment for your injury. Maximum medical improvement is the baseline for your claim. It will serve as a baseline to show how your injury has affected your life. For your employer, it shows them how much they must pay you for your damage.
A lawyer will calculate how much your future is affected depending on your MMI score in your claim. Your employer will also know how much they must pay you for your injuries, and you do not need to go back and forth for the rest of your life attempting to get further compensation for your damage.
I’m an offshore worker; what are my rights?
There are many rights afforded to seamen under the Jones Act. When you are an offshore worker injured while working on a Jones Act vessel, you have rights.
You will have the right to have your medical benefits paid. You will also have the right to hire an attorney to represent you. Most importantly, you have the right not to make any statements about the injury to anyone aside from your lawyer.
What are unseaworthiness claims?
There are unique definitions to note when working as a seaman. When a vessel is not safe, and seamen suffer injuries while working, they can file an unseaworthiness claim. Within this claim, it will state that the ship is unsafe. Due to this statement, officials will investigate the ship’s safety. These claims are incredibly complex as it requires a full investigation into the vessel and the practices of those operating or working on the boat.
The burden of causation in Jones Act Lawsuits
Jones Act lawsuits are unique as the injured employee must show the employer’s negligence played a role in the injury or accident. Their role can be minor if the employer was negligent. The burden of proof is lower in these cases due to the work seaman do.
Some examples include:
- Improper training: Seamen require substantial training, and accidents will happen when there is inadequate training.
- Lack of essential equipment: No access to the equipment necessary to complete a job safely
- Slippery deck: Slip and fall from oil or grease left on the ship’s surfaces.
- Malfunctioning equipment: Cranes and heavy-lifting equipment that do not work properly.
Are there other laws that apply to maritime workers?
File a claim under the correct law to ensure payment for your medical expenses and other damages. In most cases, if your case does not qualify under the Jones Act, it will fall under general maritime law. This law covers offshore and Longshore workers in most other cases. While the Jones Act and general maritime law are federal laws, different state rules can apply to your case.
Other laws are:
- Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act: Victims of vessel-related accidents must meet specific requirements for eligibility. This act allows workers injured on American waters to recover compensation for injury-related damages.
- Death on the High Seas Act: The surviving family members can file a wrongful death maritime claim when a person passes away on a vessel.
- Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act: Some injuries will show damage years down the line. In these cases, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act allows you to obtain compensation for past and future damages such as physical limitations, medical costs, and loss of earning capacity.
If you file a claim under the wrong law, you can lose your rights to benefits. Some of these claims can take a long time to resolve, and you may have run out of time to file a new claim under the correct law. The court may also find that you are ineligible to file under the Jones Act due to dual recovery actions.
How to succeed with your Jones Act claim
To obtain a successful Jones Act settlement:
- Speak to a lawyer
- File a complaint
- Serve the employer
- Wait for the employer to file a complaint answer
- First court hearing
- Discovery process
- Evidence collection and review
- Hire expert witnesses
- Preliminary conference
- Settlement negotiations
- Trial in some cases
- Enforce the verdict
- File an appeal
While many cases will not require you to go through this entire process, it is good to prepare ahead of time if it does. The chances are high of settling before making it to court. However, speak with a lawyer to determine your case’s best course of action.
Having a lawyer during settlement negotiations is critical. The employer’s insurance company will argue for a lower settlement while you are in neverending pain. Having a maritime lawyer acts as a defense against these tactics.
Do I need a maritime injury lawyer?
The short answer to this question is yes; you will need a maritime injury lawyer when injured on a vessel. Most maritime law topics are complex, and not every lawyer handles these cases. Many seamen have gone decades without injury and think they know their rights but do not. The only person who can genuinely give you an idea of how the Jones Act and other maritime laws work is an experienced attorney.
When you are injured, you must contact a lawyer to help you begin filing a claim. While you are afforded many benefits under maritime law and the Jones Act, not every employer will do the right thing. It is up to your lawyer to ensure that the law protects you.
Contact a lawyer who will work on a contingency fee basis, so you do not have to pay any money upfront. The attorney will collect their fees upon settling. However, you must discuss your options with a lawyer.