Working on a barge or a rig can be dangerous, as the risk of maritime accidents is higher than most professions. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 2011 and 2017, 45 fatal and more than 61,000 nonfatal injuries in the maritime industry occurred. The federal agency states these statistics are amongst the highest rate for all American workers.
Being a seaman is an inherently dangerous job. Despite this heightened risk, many maritime employees are excluded from federal or state-based workers’ compensation laws in the case of an injury or illness sustained while working on a vessel. This is why the Jones Act is so important for an injured employee who works offshore.
Are you an injured worker looking to seek workers’ compensation benefits? If you suffer from an injury you received offshore and need help getting compensation, the caring and knowledgeable injury attorneys at Montagna Maritime Law can help. Call our law firm for a free consultation at (757) 622-8100.
What is the Jones Act?
The Jones Act provides compensation rights to those crew members who received an injury or developed an illness while working aboard or in connection with a sea vessel. It is an important maritime federal law that protects seamen who do not fall under the protection of land-based laws. Maritime workers typically do not qualify for federal or state-based workers’ compensation after being injured, so they are then protected under the Jones Act as long as they meet the following three criteria:
- The individual must meet the definition of a “seaman” (more on that later).
- The individual must have sustained the injury or developed the illness during his or her employment.
- The individual’s injury or illness must result from negligence on the part of his or her employer or another employee.
Who Can Bring a Jones Act Case?
In determining who can bring a case under the Jones Act, you must assess the qualifications of a seaman by determining the duration and nature of the individual’s connection to the vessel. Anyone who works on navigable waters and contributes at least 30% of their work time to the work of the vessel usually falls under the protection of the Jones Act.
The Act limits protection only to those considered “seamen” which, by definition, is “an individual (except scientific personnel, a sailing school instructor, or a sailing school student) engaged or employed in any capacity on board a vessel” (46 USC Section 10101(3)). Generally, contract workers, longshoremen, and harbor workers cannot bring Jones Act claims, but they can bring legal claims under other maritime laws for the injuries they have sustained.
What Injuries Are Compensable Under the Jones Act?
Any seaman’s injury sustained as a result of an act of negligence by the vessel’s owner or another employee is compensable under the Jones Act as long as the injury occurs during the scope of the seaman’s duty. Injuries occurring while the seaman is not aboard the ship or vessel may also fall under the coverage of the Jones Act, depending on the work they were performing at the time of the injury.
Vessel owners are under obligation to maintain the safety of their vessels and any of the equipment on their vessels, especially that which may be used by employees. When someone suffers injury as a result of a breach of this obligation, the vessel owner is liable for the injury, even if their involvement in the injury is minor.
What is the Difference Between the Jones Act and a Workers’ Compensation Claim?
The role of fault is the most significant difference between the Jones Act and Workers’ Compensation. With workers’ comp, it does not matter who is at fault. Regardless if your coworker, your employer, or anyone else may be to blame, you could still pursue workers’ compensation and receive benefits if your claim is approved.
The Jones Act works very differently. Seamen who sustain an injury during the course of their job are not eligible for workers’ comp since that type of coverage is designed for land-based activities. However, they can pursue compensation for work-related injuries under the federal Jones Act statute. (Remember, to have coverage under this law, a worker meets the legal definition of a “seaman.”)
Unlike workers’ compensation, where workers qualify for coverage whether or not their employer was responsible for their injury, a seaman must prove that their maritime employer was negligent, which led to their injury. If their case under The Jones Act is successful, injured workers can obtain compensation for past and future medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering.
Negligence Covered Under the Jones Act
It is important to distinguish that the Jones Act does not provide benefits to seamen who have been injured at no fault of anyone else. However, injuries are protected if they are a result of employer negligence. Here are a few common examples of employer negligence:
- Failure to provide a seaworthy vessel
- Failure to provide warning signs in hazardous areas of the vessel
- Failure to repair broken or faulty equipment or parts
- Failure to provide workers with proper safety gear
- Failure to ensure vessel decks are equipped with no-skid surfaces
- Failure to perform regular inspections on equipment and parts
- Lack of proper safety training prior to allowing seamen to perform duties
Benefits under the Jones Act are covered in four categories: punitive damages (in some circumstances), medical expenses, loss of earnings, and pain and suffering.
In addition to the following types of compensation, seamen may also be eligible for punitive damages in some circumstances. Punitive damages are allowed in Jones Act cases if employers are found to recklessly break their obligation to provide a seaworthy and safe vessel for their employees. In such situations, it must be proven that the vessel owner did, in fact, know that the vessel was not seaworthy and recklessly disregarded the safety hazards resulting in an employee injury.
Under the Jones Act, not only are the present medical expenses of injured seamen covered, but also anticipated future medical expenses, exams, travel expenses to doctor’s appointments, medication, physical therapy, rehabilitation, X-rays, specialized equipment needed to aid in recovery, counseling, mental health treatment, and more.
Loss of Earnings
Loss of earnings covers not only present earnings but also loss of earning capacity for the future, which includes potential pay raises, occupational advancements, and employee benefits, including vacation time, 401K, and/or pensions. It’s pretty difficult to calculate that future loss, which is why it’s so important that you consult a lawyer with experience with the Jones Act.
Pain and Suffering
This entails both mental suffering and physical pain. As several factors can play into dictating the compensation amount – the extent and severity of the injuries, the physical pain, and the extent of mental suffering – determining the amount a seaman is entitled to for pain and suffering.
If you have suffered a serious maritime injury either at sea or onshore, contact Montagna Maritime Law for attorneys that will fight for your rights. The track record of our success substantiates our ability to protect individual rights, no matter what your legal concerns are.
What is the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA)?
The LHWCA is a law passed by the U.S. federal government that provides workers who are not a “master or member of a crew of any vessel” (in other words, a seaman) the ability to pursue compensation. This compensation covers workers in other job categories so they can receive money to pay for medical bills, medical treatment, and care along with vocational rehabilitation for a disability, including occupational diseases, hearing loss, or other illnesses, stemming from on-the-job injuries. The injuries must have occurred in specific areas.
- On the navigable waters of the United States
- In adjoining areas, typically used to load, unload, repair, or build a vessel
If an employee is killed during the course of their job or from events on the job that later led to their death, the LHWCA provides an ability for the victim’s loved ones to receive survivor’s benefits under a wrongful death which can help with financial burdens associated funeral expenses and to help pay for living expenses due to loss of income.
What is the Difference Between the Jones Act and the LHWCA?
The Jones Act is a law that covers all workers who meet the definition of “seamen” while the LHWCA covers land-based maritime workers who suffer an injury or wrongful death. The biggest difference is the Jones Act provides seamen with a negligence remedy to help them get what they need in the event of injury. The LHWCA, on the other hand, is a type of workers’ compensation law that only applies to land-based workers.
Understanding the differences between the two can be confusing, making it difficult for injured workers to choose to pursue a seaman’s injury or a workers’ compensation course of action.
Why Should You Hire a Maritime Attorney?
The laws governing maritime activities are complex due to factors such as jurisdiction, location of the accident, and job description. Taking one wrong step can make the difference between being given or denied compensation, especially when pursuing Jones Act negligence claim. Working with a skilled lawyer who understands the intricacies of maritime law gives you the best chance of obtaining compensation. Your maritime law attorney can help you to:
- Determine if you qualify under the Jones Act or LHWCA
- Advise on which employer documents to sign so you do not accidentally waive your rights to a claim
- Help you file your accident claim
If you sustain an injury during the course of your job, it is a good idea to speak with a knowledgeable maritime injury lawyer at Montagna Maritime Law to determine if you meet the criteria for a seaman or would instead be categorized as a land-based maritime worker. Our attorneys are well-versed in maritime laws and can determine your eligibility so that you file the correct paperwork.
Were You Hurt as a Result of an Unseaworthy Vessel?
If you or a family member suffers from a personal injury or have lost a loved one due to a maritime-related accident, the experienced and empathetic Virginia maritime attorneys at Montagna are here to support you. Helping our clients get their rightful compensation is of utmost importance to us, and we care very deeply about protecting the well-being of our clients and their families.
Montagna Maritime Law has been fighting for the rights of injured maritime workers and their families for over 50 years. Our legal team regularly represents crews working on dredges, tugs, barges, fishing boats, and container ships. To obtain a free case evaluation, contact us. Our phone number is (877) 622-8100, or, if you prefer, fill out our online contact form. Our law firm services people in Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina.