Jobs at sea are difficult and dangerous. One of the primary reasons is the length of time it takes for an injured seaman to receive emergency treatment. Medical care on board a vessel is often relatively limited, and fully-equipped medical services are often hours away.
When the worst happens, the Jones Act provides robust rights to seamen to recover for their injuries. If you’ve been injured aboard a vessel, our Jones Act lawyers can help.
What Is the Jones Act?
Also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, the Jones Act is a federal maritime law that keeps merchant marines and seamen safe. In addition to regulating U.S. ports and waterways, the Jones Act provides protections for merchant marines injured on the job.
Eligibility Under the Jones Act
The Jones Act provides protection for a broad class of workers deemed “seamen.” While the Act itself does not define the term, a seaman is generally anyone with a job-related connection to nearly any type of vessel who spends at least 30% of their working time on that vessel.
Officers, crew members, entertainers, and others all qualify. Whether you work on a cruise ship or a barge, a tug boat or a freighter, the Jones Act applies.
Although the Jones Act does not cover harbor workers, including shipbuilders and ship repair workers, we can provide assistance to longshoremen injured while loading or unloading a ship. Please contact us if you have questions about whether the Jones Act applies to you.
Jones Act Rights and Remedies
For seamen injured at sea, the Jones Act provides a robust set of remedies for injuries that may occur. These remedies generally provide the right for a seaman to
- Recover “maintenance and cure” from their employer;
- Sue their employer for negligence; and
- Sue the ship owner for “unseaworthiness.”
These three remedies are hugely important because they better allow a seaman to hold the appropriate party responsible for injuries caused. Each one is described in more detail below.
Maintenance and Cure Defined
Although it sounds like a bit of legalese, maintenance and cure is simply a form of compensation. Generally, a seaman receives maintenance and cure while recovering from an injury suffered on the job.
Maintenance, in this context, refers to a seaman’s day-to-day expenses (like food or utility bills); “cure” refers specifically to the seaman’s medical expenses. Cure usually covers everything from surgery to medications to physical therapy.
Maintenance and cure is just one set of damages a seaman can recover under the Jones Act. How much maintenance and cure will be depends very much on the specific nature of each case. The total amount may be higher or lower depending on the severity of the injury and effectiveness of any union bargaining.
Suing for Negligence Under the Jones Act
Like negligence claims under tort law, negligence claims under the Jones Act typically involve a person’s carelessness. Specifically, negligence under the Jones Act covers acting or not acting as a reasonably prudent person would. This includes failing to take reasonable care to avoid injury to others.
While there is no set list of negligent acts under the Jones Act, some examples include:
- Failing to search and rescue lost seamen;
- Failing to provide adequate medical treatment;
- Failure to take reasonable precautions against unsafe sailing conditions, such as failing to avoid storms or dangerous sea conditions;
- Making negligent orders or providing negligent supervision;
- Failing to properly secure cargo and equipment;
- Failing to ensure that a vessel’s deck is clear of obstacles, including spills that could cause injury; or
- Making careless decisions with respect to the qualifications of crewmembers when hiring them.
At its core, negligence stems from the failure to fulfill the duty each person owes to another not to act carelessly in certain situations. In the context of the Jones Act, an employer owes this duty to its employees, and its employees, in turn, owe it to one another.
In the real world, there are a virtually infinite number of scenarios in which someone may be negligent while working on a vessel. If you’ve been injured and you suspect someone else’s negligence is to blame, consult a Jones Act lawyer as soon as possible. They can assess your situation and advise you of your options and potential compensation.
Seaworthiness Under the Jones Act
Every ship owner has the responsibility to make sure their vessel is seaworthy. Although “unseaworthiness” may conjure images of a derelict ship ready to sink beneath the waves, the term has a specific legal meaning in maritime law. In fact, a ship may be perfectly capable of sailing and still be unseaworthy—at least for Jones Act purposes.
A vessel is seaworthy if its hull, equipment, and crew are reasonably maintained such that they can perform their intended functions.
For the vessel itself, this means that all parts of it are in safe working order and that the crew has a safe place to work; for the crew this means they are properly trained. Seaworthiness even includes having suitable living quarters and bathroom facilities for the crew.
So when might a vessel be unseaworthy? Imagine a ship with cargo on deck. Any anchors, ropes, or cables used to secure that cargo must be in working order to properly ensure the safety of the seamen on board.
If the owner of the ship were to refuse to maintain those anchors, cables, or ropes such that they became unable to secure cargo properly, that equipment would be unseaworthy under the Jones Act. Accordingly, a seaman injured as a result of that problem would have a claim.
Importantly, seaworthiness claims under the Jones Act do not require the seaman to prove that the entire vessel was unseaworthy. Rather, the seaman needs to prove only that some part of the vessel was unseaworthy and that the seaman suffered injury as a result.
How a Jones Act Lawyer Can Help
Jones Act cases can range from simple to complex. But in each case, having an attorney who understands the ins and outs of the Act is the best way to maximize your compensation. In addition to maintenance and cure, a Jones Act attorney can help you recover other damages, including:
- Lost wages,
- Reduced earning capacity,
- Lost benefits,
- Lost of enjoyment of life,
- Pain and suffering, and
- Disability, including compensation for disfigurement.
Jones Act compensation may also include damages for the family of a seaman injured or killed on the job. Funeral expenses, damages for loss of consortium, and others may be available. No matter how straightforward the case seems, hiring an attorney is the only way to hold the wrongdoer accountable.
Grossman Attorneys at Law has the experience and resources necessary to help you recover in your Jones Act case. Our firm serves seamen of all kinds across the United States who have been injured on the job.
The Jones Act Claims Process
A Jones Act lawsuit typically has five steps. As always, however, remember that no two cases are exactly alike; depending on the specific facts of your case, there may be additional challenges along the way.
1. Report the Injury
As soon as possible after your injury, you should report it to your senior officer or employer. Not only will this create an initial record of the injury caused, it will also permit your employer to conduct an investigation if necessary. By reporting the injury early, you maximize your ability to collect eyewitness testimony and evidence from the scene.
Reporting the injury early is also crucial for getting your claim in before the statute of limitations expires. Injured seamen must bring their Jones Act claims within three years of the time of the accident. Since you likely won’t file a lawsuit immediately after your injury, starting the process as soon as possible is in your best interest.
2. Receive Medical Treatment
Although reporting the incident is important, taking care of your own health and well-being is even more so. After your initial meeting with your doctor, have them prepare a report of your injuries. This evidence may be crucial for your claim down the line.
3. File a Formal Report
Your formal report is your opportunity to provide a detailed account of the circumstances leading up to your injury. At the same time however, your formal report may serve as evidence that your employer was not at fault if it is not carefully drafted. We strongly recommend consulting a Jones Act lawyer before completing any formal report.
4. Settle the Case or File a Lawsuit
If you haven’t done so already by this stage, now is the time to hire an attorney. A Jones Act case ends with either a lawsuit or a settlement. Deciding which route to take may be difficult, and an attorney will be invaluable.
On the one hand, negotiating a fair settlement is almost impossible without legal representation. Insurance companies and employers know that you may be interested in a quick resolution, and as a result they will make you offers far below what your case is actually worth.
On the other hand, if you choose to file a Jones Act lawsuit, you will have to deal with the complexity of taking your case through the court system. Regardless of which route you choose, it’s best to seek help from an experienced attorney.
How Long Do Jones Act Cases Take?
The length of any individual case depends on a number of factors. For example, if your injuries are particularly severe, everyone involved will likely want to conduct as thorough an investigation as possible. Tracking down witnesses and evidence may take quite a while in this situation.
The other major factor will be whether you decide to settle or file suit. Settlements are a much quicker alternative to litigation. However, depending on how cooperative the other party is, a settlement may still take several months. If you decide to file in court, the case will take even longer—in most cases, it can take over a year to get to trial.
Can I Still Recover Damages If the Injury Was My Fault?
Yes. Jones Act claims follow the doctrine of comparative negligence. Under this doctrine, monetary recovery by an injured victim is reduced proportionally to the victim’s own level of negligence. What this means is that as long as a Jones Act injury isn’t entirely the fault of the victim, they can recover damages.
Is a Settlement Better Than Filing a Lawsuit?
Whether a settlement is better than a lawsuit is highly dependent on the facts of each case. While settling a case is much faster than filing a lawsuit, the compensation you get from a settlement may be lower.
When you meet with one of our Jones Act lawyers, we will go over the benefits of both options. That way, you can make an informed decision that works best for your particular situation.
If I Have a Pre-existing Injury, Can I Still File a Jones Act Claim?
Yes. In general, pre-existing injuries do not bar you from claiming damages under the Jones Act. The negligence and seaworthiness provisions of the Act always apply. As a result, negligence that aggravates an existing injury is still actionable.
Contact a Jones Act Lawyer Today
Maritime injuries can be catastrophic. If the worst happens, it is important to have an advocate that will compassionately fight to get you the compensation you deserve. At Grossman Attorneys at Law, we are committed to providing individualized focus and dedicated representation to each and every one of our clients.
In the midst of recovering from a severe injury, going through a Jones Act claim can be overwhelming. Fortunately, you don’t have to go through it alone. To speak with a Jones Act lawyer, contact us today online or give us a call at 561-368-8048 for a free consultation.