A seaman is any person who performs the majority of their job duties on a vessel. If you are a part-time seaman, you must spend at least 30 percent of your time on a ship to qualify. The status of a seaman does not matter, you can be a captain or crew member, and you will have the same rights under federal law to obtain compensation for an injury. While the sea is beautiful and majestic, it can also be a place of serious injury for those who spend their time working on vessels.
When you suffer an injury on land, there is typically a clear notion of who you can sue, but the high seas complicate the topic. Water vessels travel into different country borders and can be traveling in the ocean that does not have any owners making the law complex. One solution is the various maritime laws in place.
You will also need to consider the vessel’s unseaworthiness, which is a complex topic. While you might think the ship cannot operate at sea, that is not what the term means. Unseaworthiness refers to seamen and their safety. It is unseaworthy when the vessel does not provide seamen with safe and suitable accommodations to perform their work. Learn more about work injury laws regarding seamen and sailors from our experienced Jones Act Lawyers below.
The Jones Act
What is the Jones Act? If you are a seaman who suffers an injury during your employment, federal law allows you to sue your employer under The Jones Act. Workers’ compensation does not exist for workers at sea as it does for those on land, making this act vital to recovery efforts. When you file a maritime injury claim under the Jones Act, you must prove negligence on behalf of another seaman or the owner of the vessel you work on.
The vessel owner’s negligence was the cause of your injury. Employers of seaman must provide a reasonably safe working environment and use ordinary care to maintain the vessel in a reasonably safe condition.
Who Qualifies for the Jones Act benefits? Seamen. It qualifies them for financial recovery.
Some unsafe conditions that can cause injury on a vessel include:
- Unsafe working procedures
- Broken equipment
- Grease on the deck
- Co-worker assault
- Improperly maintained equipment
- Co-worker negligence
- Improper training of the crew
- Failure to provide proper equipment
Other situations can lead to an injury, and even if it is not on this list, the seaman should discuss legal options with a local sailor and seaman injury lawyer. While a burden of proof must be present, under the Jones Act, it is much lower than in other personal injury cases. In Jones Act claims, you will need to prove the employer played a small part in your injury. It does not need to be a significant contributing factor.
The Jones Act offers seamen similar compensation as other personal injury claims.
You can recover payment for:
- Pain and suffering
- Medical expenses
- Mental anguish
- Lost earning capacity
- Lost wages and benefits
- Future Medical expenses
A seaman who suffers an injury can file a Jones Act claim in state or federal court and must file it within three years of the injury. Some courts will allow you to recover interest on your damages. You can also recover maintenance and cure, which we describe below. For the best advice, contact a local sailor and seaman injury lawyer.
Brown Water cases
Brown water seamen are maritime workers who operate on oil and gas vessels. These vessels include tug boats and barges. They can be in a waterway, canal, or river. Vessel owners can prevent injuries on ships and barges even with their present danger.
Sometimes employers will attempt to push workers past their breaking point and ignore safety regulations. It is up to the vessel owner to provide safety equipment and training to everyone who operates on the vessel, even if it is unseaworthy.
The addition of the term brown water into maritime law shows that brown water seamen have the same rights as blue water seamen. Both seamen face similar dangers at sea and must have the same rights. Brown water seamen travel from across the nation to use their skills to explore, develop and transport oil and gas.
Oil workers have unique duties and are vital to the economy’s growth. However, the job is also full of hazards, especially on platforms, deck floors, and rugs. Sometimes the injury happens when the oilfield workers are en route to and from the oilfield. A brown water seaman will have legal protection even when the damage occurs during transit.
Ocean-going vessels and those who work on them are blue water seamen. The companies that employ these seamen operate within the United States and are citizens or have a work permit. Seamen who live on a vessel and those who live ashore will have the same legal rights.
When the vessel does not have suitable arrangements for sleeping, eating, or relaxing, seamen must live ashore and therefore have protection during their travels on and off the vessel. The key to a maritime lawsuit is the injury was during the scope of employment which is a broad term that can cover various tasks you will accomplish at sea.
Maintenance and Cure
Under maritime law, an employer must provide maintenance and cure for seamen. Maintenance refers to room and board while the seaman recovers from their injury and includes items like mortgage, utility, homeowners insurance, food, and property taxes. Seamen do not get finances for internet, car payments, or phone bills.
Cure refers to medical expenses while seamen look to reach maximum medical improvement. The one exception is when you are the cause of your injury, and the vessel owner or any other party did not play a role in your injury.
Since it is a federal doctrine, the states cannot dictate the outcome and how much they must pay seamen for an injury, cure benefits will cover expenses for:
- Hospital bills
- Physical therapy
- Emergency care
- In-home care
- Nursing services
- Transportations expense for airlift, ambulance services, and fuel costs
To recover compensation under the maintenance and cure doctrine, you must have worked as a seaman. That means your duties contribute to the function of the vessel and are vital to the operation. Seaman must spend at least 30 percent of their time on the boat to qualify, and if you spend less than that, you do not have any rights.
If you are a seamen and part of a union, collective bargaining agreements will dictate your costs before you head to sea. An additional benefit of this doctrine is that seamen can also obtain attorneys fees so that anyone who attempts to delay payment cannot since an attorney will always be there to prevent these actions. You only have three years to file for cure and maintenance in federal court.
Another federal law is the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act which addresses recovery for injured workers who do not live and work on a vessel most of the time. Employees who are not seamen and do not work on or near the water have protection under this act. Those who work in docks, shipyards, and shipping terminals will need to file a claim under the Longshore act after an injury. Vocational rehabilitation is available when a seaman cannot return to work.
Injured workers can also receive benefits for:
- Temporary partial disability
- Temporary total disability
- Permanent partial disability
- Permanent total disability
The Longshore Act works similarly to land workers’ compensation claims. The main difference is that workers will have more compensation options under the Longshore act. Workers with a permanent partial disability can obtain compensation under the act when they might not under a typical workers’ compensation claim. Temporary total disability benefits under workers’ compensation provide 60 percent of contract wages to 66 ⅔ percent under the Longshore Act.
General Maritime Law
Sailors and seamen on vessels need protection when they are at sea and suffer an injury. The purpose of general maritime law is to offer those protections. Maritime law will handle any disputes in international water between private parties accordingly. The law also extends to incidents on land but with naval concerns. These include injuries, missing or lost cargo, boat collisions, and piracy.
It does not address disputes that countries have regarding underwater resources or navigation in waterways. Other legal avenues will address those elements in a different legal aspect. The international Maritime Organization, which the United Nations runs, focuses on disputes at sea and regulates the application of maritime laws. There are several treaties between countries that these agencies handle.
While there are international treaties, maritime laws are also within each country. The United States allows legal issues to go into the federal court system. These laws have been in place since the inception of seafaring and have changed slightly as time passes.
Since there are no changes, once a maritime lawyer understands these processes, they can continue to address them for years. That is important because you will want a sailor and seaman injury lawyer who is well versed with these claims and can get you the settlement you need. You can also obtain punitive damages when there is an apparent disregard by the vessel owner for your safety or maintenance and cure obligations.
Wrongful death claims
The death of a seaman is a loss to the family, and they deserve to get compensation for their loss. The death must have occurred during the seaman’s course of employment and as a negligent action of the employer. Under the Jones Act, family members can file a wrongful death claim. Other options under general maritime law can also allow family members to file claims.
How a Maritime Attorney can help you
Maritime injury claims are very complex, and you can’t trust your future in the hands of any lawyer. You need a maritime injury lawyer with experience with these claims who can get you the compensation you deserve after a maritime injury. Maritime law is making many advancements, especially for blue water navy veterans.
In 2019, the Blue Water Navy Veterans Act was passed for navy veterans who served 12 nautical miles off of Vietnam from January 6, 1962, and May 7, 1975. Additionally, Navy veterans who served in the Korean Demilitarized Zone from September 1, 1967, to August 21, 1971, also have protection under this act. Family members can also file claims under the act if a loved one passes away.
Maritime law encompasses many different legal intricacies, and you will need someone to fight for your rights. These cases are handled in state or federal court, depending on the facts. It is vital to hire the right attorney due to the severity of your injuries. You must have an attorney with experience with maritime law. There are many benefits to having a Maritime lawyer handling your claim.
A maritime lawyer will work to represent you and help with:
- Your injuries: As with any injury claim, the extent of your injuries will heavily influence your claim. Injuries from maritime incidents are very severe and will heavily impact the ability to continue to work in the same capacity. You will need a lawyer to prove how serious your injuries are and the expenses you will need to recover.
- Work classification: Your status as a seaman is a significant area of contention. Your classification as a worker will heavily impact your legal avenues. Who you worked under will also make a difference in your claim.
- Causation and liability: Since these cases are on a federal level, the laws are very complex. The burden of proof and liability are different in maritime accidents than in other cases.
- Negligence and unseaworthiness: You can be eligible to file a lawsuit against the employer for unsafe conditions and negligence leading to your injuries.
While many protections are available, as a seaman, you will also need a strong lawyer in your corner. Do not trust just anyone with your maritime claim. Trust a maritime lawyer who knows how to handle brown and blue water seamen injury cases.