Are you a deckhand on a tug, dredge, barge or ferry, a commercial fisherman or seaman, or a longshoreman who has been seriously injured in a work-related accident?
Whether you work on the high seas, in the Chesapeake Bay, or on any of the many rivers along the East Coast, your work is dangerous — and also depends on your physical ability. That’s why it’s critical you speak to a qualified maritime attorney for your seaman injury so you can get the full compensation you deserve.
At Montagna Maritime Law, we have successfully fought for the rights of injured seamen on the East Coast for over 50 years. When you’ve been injured while trying to make an honest living, we’re here to help you understand your rights under maritime law and guide you through the legal process for filing a seaman injury claim.
What is a Seaman?
Generally speaking, a seaman — as set out under the Jones Act — is a person who spends a significant amount of their time working as a crewmember or captain aboard a vessel that is “in navigation.”
A Jones Act seaman must:
- Have been assigned to work aboard a vessel or fleet of vessels operated by their employer,
- Spend a significant amount of their work time (30% or more) aboard the vessel, and
- Contribute to the work performed by the vessel.
Who Qualifies as a Seaman?
Courts use a three-part test to determine seaman status. To qualify as a Jones Act seaman, maritime workers must meet these criteria:
The Vessel Must Be “in Navigation”
The vessel must be “in navigation.” That means it must be afloat, in operation, capable of moving, and it must be on navigable waters.
The vessel doesn’t actually have to be at sea or even moving in order for a maritime worker to qualify as Jones Act seaman — it simply has to be capable of moving under its own power. A vessel “in navigation” can be moored or tied up at a dock, but it cannot be in a dry dock or out of the water in storage.
The term “navigable waters” refers to a body of water, such as a river, canal, lake, or sea that is being used, or is capable of being used, for foreign or interstate commerce. This includes landlocked lakes that extend across state borders or are connected to a river that flows into another state.
The Seaman Must Contribute to the Work of the Vessel
A seaman must contribute to the function of the vessel. This means that the worker’s duties must in some way relate to the operation of the vessel and its activities, and it’s not enough for a seaman or crew members to be a mere passenger on a vessel.
When assessing this criterion, courts will look at the duties assigned and performed by the worker while aboard the vessel to determine whether it fits the criteria of contributing to the daily operation of the vessel.
A seaman doesn’t necessarily have to eat or sleep aboard a vessel to qualify as a seaman under the Jones Act. While the criteria might seem rigid, some workers have been qualified as Jones Act seamen after only a day or two on the job.
The Seaman Must Spend a “Significant Amount of Time” Aboard a Vessel
A maritime worker must spend 30 percent of their total employment time aboard a vessel or fleet of vessels operated by their employer. This means a worker doesn’t need to be working full-time on a single vessel to qualify as a Jones Act seaman.
For example, a maritime worker who spends 20 percent of the time on vessel A, 20 percent of the time on vessel B, and the remaining 60 percent of the time in the employer’s office would qualify as a seaman under the Jones Act.
The Rights of Injured Seamen
Unlike almost all other employees in land-based jobs, injured seamen aren’t entitled to regular workers’ compensation benefits under state law. Instead, seamen may pursue three different avenues for damages under federal law:
- Negligence: Injured seamen are entitled to sue his or her employer for negligence under the Jones Act. To make a negligence claim, injured seamen must prove some negligence by the employer, and that the employer’s negligence contributed to their injuries.
- Unseaworthiness: Any member of the crew of the vessel who has been injured by an unseaworthy ship can make a claim under the federal maritime doctrine of unseaworthiness.
- Maintenance and Cure: If you’ve suffered a seaman injury, your employer must pay your general living expenses (maintenance) to replace lost wages, as well as all medical expenses (cure).
Maintenance and Cure is a basic right of all Jones Act seaman. You don’t need to prove negligence or fault in order to recover maintenance and cure benefits following a seaman injury. These benefits remain payable until you’re fit for duty or you’ve reached a point where medical treatment is no longer helpful.
What If I Don’t Qualify As a Seaman?
There are two basic types of maritime workers: those who qualify as Jones Act seaman, and everyone else who works on or near the water. The type of compensation that an injured maritime worker can recover depends on which group you belong to.
Maritime workers who don’t qualify as a seaman under the Jones Act and have suffered a seaman injury are generally covered by the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.
The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act is a federal workers’ compensation scheme that governs workers’ compensation for maritime employees, among other types of employees. The Act covers the majority of employees who work on or near the water and who are not seamen, i.e. who are not members of a crew or ship.
The types of maritime workers who are typically covered by the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act include longshoremen, harbor workers, and most other people who work on docks, shipyards, and marine terminals.
Your Rights to Compensation After a Seaman Injury
If you were injured while working at sea or you’re not sure if you qualify as a Jones Act seaman, it’s important to speak to an experienced maritime attorney. Knowing what kind of claim to make under maritime law and whether you meet all the criteria necessary to be a seaman isn’t always clear, and we can help.
The maritime attorneys at Montagna Maritime Law have helped Jones Act seaman successfully recover compensation for their seaman injuries for over 50 years. Our attorneys are experienced working across state and federal maritime laws and will build a solid case to help you get the compensation you deserve under maritime law. Get in touch for your free case evaluation today.
Free and Confidential Evaluation of Your Case
If you would like to find out more about your legal rights after suffering an injury at work, take advantage of our free consultation. You can learn more about what benefits you may be entitled to and how our experienced maritime attorneys can help. We handle all our cases on a no win, no fee basis, which means you will pay attorney fees only if we are successful in getting you compensation.