Why Is the Jones Act Important to Oil Workers?

Why Is the Jones Act Important to Oil Workers? The general rule in a workplace injury is that you cannot sue your employer for negligence because they have provided you with workers’ compensation insurance. The workers' comp system does have some benefits since it is a no-fault system. For example, injured employees can receive benefits no matter who is at fault for the accident; therefore, there is no need to prove negligence to file a claim. This does make it somewhat easier to get financial compensation for injuries through a workers’ compensation claim, but the drawback is people typically get paid less in compensation. The good news for injured oil workers is that the Jones Act allows people to file a lawsuit against their employer when they have suffered an injury on the job. The main difference in filing a claim under the Jones Act versus a worker's compensation claim is that the injured worker must prove that their injury was a result of the employer's negligence.

The Jones Act Protects Workers out at Sea

​Why Is the Jones Act Important to Oil Workers?Congress passed the Jones Act in 1920 to ensure the competitiveness of the American maritime and shipping industries. In addition to many provisions that protect American shipping companies, a crucial part of the statute helps people who get injured while working at sea. Before the passage of the law, it was difficult to get people to work on seagoing vessels because of the dangers associated with maritime jobs. The protections under the Jones Act were intended to encourage people to work on ships. As the maritime industry evolved, courts interpreted some of the clauses of the statute to include people working on offshore oil rigs.

Oil Workers Need Protection from Dangerous Jobs

The Jones Act is important to oil rig workers because they have dangerous jobs and the potential for serious injury is high. The following are just some of the dangers offshore oil rig workers face on the job:
  • Hazardous weather conditions
  • Slippery surfaces, blocked decks, and passageways
  • Outdated or malfunctioning equipment that causes work accidents
  • Transportation accidents coming to and from the rig (The most common way to get injured for offshore workers.)
  • Fires and explosions
  • Harmful noise levels
  • Toxic fumes and vapors

What makes these injuries worse is limited access to emergency medical care on the rig. Injured workers may need to be evacuated to get the necessary care. Serious injuries can worsen because of the lack of immediate medical treatment.

Oil Rig Employers Have Legal Obligations to Their Employees

The core principle of the Jones Act is as follows: The employer must provide the employee with a reasonably safe place to work and keep the vessel in seaworthy condition. The employer must use ordinary care under the circumstances to maintain the vessel. If not, the employer can be held legally responsible in a lawsuit.

The Jones Act applies when the worker is at sea. Under this law, the “sea” can be anywhere that is not on land. Even some land-based workers can qualify for the protection of the Jones Act, depending on where they were when the injury happened. There are very complex rules, and the legal interpretations always seem to change.

Oil Rigs Are Considered a Vessel Under the Jones Act

Although the Jones Act dates back to 1920, it was only in the past two decades that the Supreme Court clarified what the Jones Act considers a vessel. In a seminal case, the Court decided that an oil rig can meet this legal definition for purposes of a Jones Act claim. Previously, the legal interpretation excluded something attached to the ocean floor that did not move. Now, oil rig workers have the same protections as maritime workers and can receive full compensation when their employer is at fault for their injury.

However, the Jones Act may not always apply. Everything depends on where you spend most of your working time, what role you play, and where you were when the injury occurred.

Even if the Jones Act does not apply, another law may entitle you to financial compensation for your medical bills and some replacement income. Even if your employer did not cause the maritime injury, you can still qualify for financial compensation for your injuries.

Whether the Jones Act Applies Is Always Fact Specific

Your attorney will dig deeper into the facts of your case to figure out which law applies. Even if the Jones Act does not apply, you will still be entitled to some compensation that will pay for your medical bills and some of your lost wages.

Other federal laws can protect you, including:

These laws have their own workers’ compensation programs that function similarly to those you will find at the state level. You will not need to prove any fault to qualify for these benefits. On the other hand, you will not receive the same compensation that you would get if you win a Jones Act lawsuit.

Injured oil rig workers may qualify for the Jones Act even if they do not work full-time on the vessel. To make a claim under the Jones Act, an injured worker must show the following:

  • Have at least 30 percent of their work take place aboard the vessel
  • Have duties that directly contribute to the mission or operation of the vessel in navigation, whether moving or at anchor
  • Have duties that require substantial time and effort for the betterment of the mission

If the injured worker meets all three parts of the test, they become a seaman under the law and can sue their employer for negligence. Thus, employees who maintain and repair different oil rigs can qualify as seamen, even if they do not directly work in oil extraction. You do not have to be out at sea to be covered under the Jones Act. Some land-based oil and gas workers may qualify for Jones Act coverage depending on the circumstances.

How Does the Jones Act Apply to Oil and Gas Workers?

The law that applies in an injured seaman accident depends on where the oil rig is located. The Jones Act will apply when an oil rig employee works in waters off of a state’s coast. If the rig is on the Outer Continental Shelf, a particular statute applies, and the injured worker may be unable to file a personal injury lawsuit. If the Jones Act applies, it becomes your exclusive way of obtaining compensation for workplace injuries. Employers will do everything they can to argue that the Act does not apply because it will cost them more money. They will closely review the facts of your employment and injury to argue that a different law controls, one that will not see them held liable for their negligence.

Negligence in a Jones Act Case

When the Jones Act does govern your case, your workplace injury lawsuit will proceed like any other personal injury case. You will need to gather evidence that shows that your employer was negligent and you were injured. Negligence has the same meaning that it does in any personal injury lawsuit - that your employer acted in a way that fell below their duty of care to you.

The following are some examples of oil rig negligence:

  • Failure to provide a deck or working surface that is free of fall hazards
  • Failure to outfit an employee with the proper personal protective equipment
  • Failure to properly train workers for their job duties
  • Providing employees with equipment that does not properly work
  • Failure to supervise and enforce safe working methods among employees
  • Failure to ensure that there are proper operating procedures that further ensure employee safety

An injury lawyer in a Jones Act claim will present facts and evidence that show how the employer was negligent. One significant difference between a Jones Act lawsuit and a standard personal injury lawsuit is the lower level of causation required in a Jones Act case. All you need to do is show that the employer’s negligence was a factor in your injury instead of the primary cause.

You May Be Able to File a Lawsuit for an Unseaworthy Vessel

If the Jones Act does not apply to you, there may still be a way to sue your employer for negligence. In the maritime industry, the employer has a legal obligation to provide a seaworthy vessel.

Examples of unseaworthy vessels include:

  • A lack of proper safety equipment
  • Worn-out or old equipment
  • Improperly designed equipment on the vessel

Even if the employer was not to blame for an oil worker’s injuries, the worker might still be entitled to some financial benefits. You can think of the Jones Act as providing the right to sue for negligence, plus some guaranteed benefits so long as an injury was work-related. Either way, workers injured in a maritime accident will not be without some benefits.

The Jones Act May Still Give You Other Compensation

If you are covered by the Jones Act, you are also entitled to maintenance and other cure benefits.

In maintenance and cure, you will receive:

  • Maintenance to pay for your living expenses, such as rent, food, electricity, and taxes. These payments will cover your household expenses, but they do not include things like your phone and internet payments.
  • Cure pays for the medical expenses associated with your injuries.

Your Compensation in a Jones Act Lawsuit

The core difference between a Jones Act claim and A workers’ compensation claim is that your compensation can be far greater in a Jones Act case.

In a Jones Act personal injury lawsuit, you may receive the following types of compensation:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Emotional trauma
  • Permanent disfigurement

If your loved one died in an accident on an oil rig, your family can receive additional compensation in a wrongful death lawsuit. The amount of wrongful death damages are typically more than what is available under a workers comp death benefit.

Maritime and oil rig workers who qualify for compensation under the Jones Act receive more money. The workers’ compensation program restricts compensation to your living expenses or a portion of your earnings. In a personal injury claim, you can be compensated for the total amount of your lost income. Additionally, you can be compensated for future lost income. Future income can be calculated to include raises based on your career path.

Depending on the severity of your injury, non-economic damages such as pain and suffering can be part of your overall claim. The ability to file a lawsuit can take a claim worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and potentially make it worth millions of dollars.

Your Employer Will Do Everything They Can to Defeat Your Claim

You can imagine that your employer’s team of attorneys will do all they can to prevent you from receiving the compensation you deserve under the Jones Act. Employers sometimes aggressively fight claims to discourage other oil rig workers from filing Jones act claims.
paula a wyatt attorney wyatt law firm san antonio

Attorney, Paula A. Wyatt

You need an experienced Jones Act and maritime attorney with a deep understanding of this specialized area of law before your employer fights your claim. Your employer has a far greater monetary incentive to deny a Jones Act lawsuit than they would with a workers’ compensation claim.

A skilled oil rig accident lawyer from Wyatt Law Firm will review your claim and let you know if you have a case under the Jones Act. Their attorneys will answer any questions you have and clearly explain your legal options. If you are entitled to compensation, your lawyer will gather evidence to prove your claim. Evidence is time sensitive and can be difficult to obtain. Some employers have been known to conceal evidence of negligence and attempt to avoid liability in a Jones Act claim.

The sooner you contact a Jones Act attorney, the better. They can immediately begin to investigate what happened and issue a letter to your employer demanding the company preserve all useful evidence that can prove liability and help your case. Never wait to seek legal help. Contact us today to see how we can help you.    


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