At The Workers Compensation Attorney Group, we are well-versed with the Jones Act and other maritime laws. For many years, our team of lawyers has secured significant compensation for injured seamen in Long Beach, California. We are ready to help you even if you are injured many miles offshore.
What is The Jones Act?
Also commonly known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, the Jones Act provides the legal framework for the merchant marines. This act was enacted in reaction to the US fleet that was destroyed by the Germany navy during World War I. It seeks to offer a safe network of merchant mariners within the USA. It calls for all goods shipped by US vessels and to US ports to be operated by Americans.
While much attention focuses on foreign shipping rules, this law also outlines the responsibilities of the maritime industry as far as the well-being and safety of the crew are concerned. It protects sailors from exploitation and calls for compensation for injured employees due to their employer's negligence. Also, it requires employers to maintain a safe environment, offer medical care and set standards for safety equipment, training, licensing, and vessel maintenance.
Who is Covered by the Jones Act of 1920?
Not everyone who works on or near the water qualifies to be covered by the Jones Act. According to the law, it only applies to seamen.
A seaman is any person assigned to a fleet or vessel which operates in navigable waters (used for foreign or interstate business). You must also perform tasks that are related to the purpose of the vessel. The relative importance of your job description does not matter provided that your tasks benefit your employer.
Those covered include crew members, captains, masters, and officers who spend more than 30% of their working time on a group of vessels under common ownership or vessels in navigation. If you do not meet the 30% threshold requirement, you will be covered under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act.
What Does the Term “A Vessel in Navigation" Mean?
One of the compensation requirements under the Jones Act is a vessel in navigation. That means the vessel:
To be considered afloat, the water vessel should be on the water and floating. If the vessel is moored at the terminal or dock, it is well thought-out to be in navigation provided it's floating on water, is still under corporate ownership and performing its purpose.
If a vessel is being repaired and hence stationary on a dry dock, it can't be considered to be in navigation. If an accident happens while the vessel is being repaired, the injured employee cannot bring a claim under the Jones Act.
Should be in Operation
For a water vessel to be in operation, it should be used to perform business on open water. If it is being repaired, it's not operational.
Should be in Navigable Waters
The water vessel should be in navigable waters like rivers, lakes or oceans that connect 2 or more states.
What Compensation is a Wounded Seaman Entitled to Receive?
Different from other employees, an injured seaman is not eligible to workers' compensation damages under either federal or California law. Instead, you are entitled to 3 different kinds of compensation.
First, you can sue your employer under the Jones Act. Second, you can file a claim against the water vessel's owner on which you were injured under the principle of unseaworthiness. Finally, you have a right to be awarded maintenance and cure benefits irrespective of who caused the injury. Below is a summary of these damages.
Claim for Negligence under the Jones Act
One of the benefits enjoyed by those who meet the Jones Act criteria is the ability to file a negligence claim against their employer. Unlike most land-based no-fault acts such as workers' compensation, an injured employee must prove their employer's negligence.
Negligence takes place when your employer behaves in an unreasonable manner and you are injured as a result. It includes:
Failing to provide you with a reasonably safe workplace
Failure to maintain vessels in a safe condition
It also entails acts and omissions by your colleagues
Almost all unsafe working conditions on a water vessel, however tiny, can cause legal liability. The most common conditions on vessels that expose companies to liability include:
Oily or greasy decks
Failure to offer employees with training and enough equipment
One of the main elements of the federal law in question is its low burden to prove your employer's negligence. In most standard negligence lawsuits like a car accident case, you should prove the accused's negligence was the leading cause of your injury. Under the Jones Act, you only need to prove your company's negligence played a role, however minor the negligence was in causing your injuries. That means you could receive damages even if your employer was only 1% at fault.
Liability for Unseaworthy Vessels
In some cases, the poor condition of a vessel is to blame for an employee's injury. The vessel's owner or entity in control should make sure the vessel is in a safe working position, well-equipped, and operated by a qualified crew. If any of these responsibilities aren't met and a worker is injured, the owner of the vessel is held liable. That means the injured seaman can recover the same types of damages available in a negligence claim.
Unseaworthiness doesn't mean the water vessel can't be navigated or sailed. It means the vessel does not have the safe and appropriate equipment to work with as far as a seaman is concerned.
Also, the doctrine of unseaworthiness has nothing to do with negligence. The owner of the vessel will be held accountable for an unseaworthy water vessel even if they acted reasonably. And if the water vessel or any of its parts does not suit its intended function, it's unseaworthy.
Right to Maintenance and Cure
The principle of maintenance and cure is different from other methods of acquiring compensation because it doesn't put the employer's conduct into consideration. You only need to prove your injury or illness is job-related.
Maintenance in this context means providing room and board to the injured employee while they recover from the injuries. It includes expenses such as your mortgage, property taxes, utilities, food, and homeowner's insurance. It's important to note it doesn't cover internet, telephone or vehicle payments.
Cure, on the other hand, means your medical expenses. Your employer should pay your maintenance and care until you reach the maximum medical improvement.
What are the Different Types of Damages Recoverable Under the Jones Act?
If you are contemplating filing a lawsuit over a maritime accident, probably you are wondering what the real worth of your case is. The answer goes down to damages (what the injury has cost you financially, physically, emotionally, mentally and in other cases whether the responsible party should be punished)
In the Jones Act lawsuit, money damages are paid to the plaintiff by the respondent. The total amount of damage awarded is agreed upon after negotiations. Below are different types of benefits that are common in maritime lawsuits.
A work-related injury suffered by a seaman almost always includes medical bills. It is the reimbursement for treatment you have already received or will be received in the future as a result of the accident. It includes emergency services, medication, diagnostic tests, surgery, hospitalization, and occupational or physical therapy.
You could also be entitled to compensation for the maritime impact on your wages or salary. It includes income you have already lost as well as the income you would have made in the future were it not for the accident.
It is crucial to understand that damages are not calculated based on an employee's actual income before or after the accident but rather on the victim's ability to earn money. This concept is known as lost income capacity.
Proving Earning Capacity
To present earning capacity evidence, you should submit copies of your previous tax returns alongside information about the employment you have held in the past. Often, calculating earning capacity is very complicated, and your lawyer may work with experts like an economist or a certified public accountant to come up with an accurate and fair calculation.
Pain and Suffering
You could also be entitled to receive compensation for both physical and mental pain and suffering you suffer as a result of the accident. Physical pain and suffering include not only the discomfort and pain you endured after the accident but also disadvantageous affects you are likely to suffer in the future as a result of the accident. Mental pain and suffering, on the other hand, is any negative emotion a plaintiff suffers as a result of enduring physical trauma and pain of the accident. It includes mental anguish, shock, anxiety, fear, humiliation, anger, loss of enjoyment of life, and emotional distress.
Loss of Consortium
Typically, loss of consortium relates to the injuries' impact on the victim's relationship with their spouse (loss of companionship or sexual relationship). The state of California also considers a separate impact on a parent-child relationship. There are cases where these damages are awarded directed to the injured plaintiff's affected family members.
How your Actions can Affect the Total Amount of Damages Awarded: Comparative Negligence
One of the common defenses against negligence claims your employer will use is that you contributed to your injuries through carelessness or negligence. It is known as comparative negligence or comparative fault, and it allows the plaintiff to get a portion of their damages covered by the negligent party.In a Jones Act case, the judge decides what percentage of the victim's negligence caused the injuries. If you are partially accountable for your injuries, the damages award is reduced by your percentage of fault.
In a Jones Act case, the judge decides what percentage of the victim's negligence caused the injuries. If you are partially accountable for your injuries, the damages award is reduced by your percentage of fault.
An Overview of Different Phases of a Jones Act Claim Process
Report the Injuries
The law requires you to report the job-related injuries within seven days to your supervisor or captain. Most insurers assume that if you fail to report the accident immediately, you were not hurt.
Your Employer or the Insurance Company will Require a Statement
If you're a merchant mariner, your employer will ask you to fill out an accident report. Make sure you fill out the accident report the best way you can. If you are not in a position to fill it out, tell your employer that you will do so when you feel better.
A report form has a section that requires you to indicate who is responsible for the accident. Note that if you fail to write that your employer is responsible, that could prevent you from filing a Jones Act lawsuit later. If you are not comfortable writing that your employer was to blame, then write that you are not sure who is accountable.
It is also worth noting that the insurance company will ask you to provide a written or recorded statement. Make sure you get off the vessel and away from the hospital or dock without issuing the insurance company a statement.
Seek Medical Attention
Irrespective of where you are injured, your company should ensure you get proper medical attention. If you are severely injured at sea within a helicopter range, you should be med-evacuated to hospital by the Coast Guard helicopter. Moreover, if you're in a foreign county, your employer should get you medical treatment and then make sure you return home.
Either way, you need to take charge of your treatment when you get home. Ensure you visit a physician, follow all their instructions, and don't miss an appointment. Medical records are vital in any Jones Act claim. Therefore, it is wise to get a thorough and prompt treatment.
Hire an Attorney
As a general rule, an injured seaman should hire an experienced lawyer immediately. The lawyer will ensure you get medical treatment as well as maintenance and cure benefits.
File a Claim
Generally, a Jones Act claim should be filed within three years from the date of your injury. You should not settle a claim if you have not reached maximum medical improvement. This is because at that point you know the total amount of money you need to be compensated for the injury.
If you cannot settle your case, you need to bring a Jones Act claim. In most cases, it takes fourteen to sixteen months for a case to get to court after filing a lawsuit.
Jones Act and Merchant Marines vs. Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act
The Jones Act covers seamen who are permanently assigned to a vessel and spend at least 30% of their work time on the vessel. The Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, on the other hand, applies to other maritime employees like those working on piers, terminals, harbors, dry-dock facilities or docks.
Another key difference is the damages recovered by each law. Damages pursued in the Jones Act lawsuit are like those recovered in a personal injury lawsuit while Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act damages are more like workers' comp benefits.
Whereas benefits awarded in Jones Act are calculated using a fault-based approach (in the exemption of maintenance and cure benefits), the total amount of benefits awarded in LHWCA cases are decided depending on the type and the seriousness of your injury. Damages awarded under LHWCA are two-thirds of your average weekly income until your injury reaches maximum recovery.
If you're not sure how your employment status is defined, you can consult a qualified maritime attorney for guidance. The lawyer will review both acts and help you in filing either lawsuit.
What are the Most Common Causes of Maritime Accident?
Seamen take on a huge responsibility and should, therefore, understand the vessel they operate as well as maintain it. Unfortunately not all do.
Effective communication between the seamen and their employer is important. It helps everyone know what they should be doing and where they should be.
Slips and Falls
You are at risk of slips and falls as a seaman due to the crowded vessel environment made more dangerous when heavy machinery is operating. Additionally, these accidents take place when vessels have poorly marked areas, poor lighting, loose lines, and lack of nets or railings. Treating surfaces with anti-skid material, keeping the vessel clean and clutter free can help reduce cases of injuries.
Man overboard is a situation where a seaman falls into water while working or due to an accident. Bad weather is also known to cause this type of accident. Every seaman on board should always be in a flotation device.
Enclosed Space Accidents
Enclosed space accidents often occur when a seaman gets into a confined space with no gas and has pockets of either flammable or toxic gases. You should conduct a risk assessment before entering the enclosed space. This space should be well ventilated.
Mooring tasks can be very hazardous if a worker doesn't have the knowledge and proper skills prior. Every seaman who is mooring should be trained beforehand as well as know what rope bights and back zone are.
Vessels that are not well maintained can lead to explosions like compressor blasts, crankcase explosions, and boiler blasts.
Fatigue and Sleep
Another cause of a maritime accident is employee fatigue. More often than not employees use supplements and caffeine to stay awake during their shift. This is very risky especially for those operating the vessels since fatigued employees are at risk of making decisions that can cause harm or kill themselves or others.
Your company has a responsibility to offer a conducive working environment for all workers. This includes ensuring the crew members get adequate restorative and restful sleep.
Maritime Wrongful Death
If you suffered a wrongful death of a loved one to a maritime accident, you are entitled to compensation. It will not bring back the family member but will relieve pain and suffering by providing you with some degree of financial security. It will help in several ways.
First, death benefits let you grieve instead of worry about financial hardship. This enables you to deal with the loss of the family member first.
Moreover, death benefits compensate the income that a loved one would have provided if they were alive. It also covers all burial expenses which is stress all by itself.
These benefits can also be used to cater for counseling, medical assistance or therapy if you're struggling to come into terms with your loved one's death. This benefit is beneficial particularly to the deceased's spouse and children.
How to Get Maritime Death Benefits
Maritime law is very convoluted and dense. The only way to get fair and full compensation in this industry is by getting an experienced lawyer. This is because the lawyer understands the process and the law.
Below is a brief overview of what your attorney will do:
Determine your eligibility to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Not every family member can file a claim. Typically, it's only the decedent's spouse and children.
Determine which jurisdiction and law apply. After a study of evidence, facts, and law, your lawyer should identify the right law to file.
Determine if negligence caused the accident and if so, can it be pinned to the company?
Define what fair reimbursement is. In most cases, the deceased's dependents recover non-economic damages and, in rare instances, punitive benefits. In both cases, your lawyer should find the best calculation means as well as ascertain a realistic value with the law.
File a thoughtful, legally well-supported and well-argued lawsuit within the statute of limitations.
Negotiate on your behalf for the fairest compensation.
Damages recoverable in wrongful death lawsuits include medical costs, funeral expenses, loss of financial support, loss of guidance, and disability benefits.
Get Legal Representation Near Me
If you have suffered severe injuries while working as a seaman, you need a legal counsel who will assist you to get the compensation you deserve under the Jones Act. At The Workers Compensation Attorney Group, we are committed to helping you recover losses like medical expenses, pain & suffering, and lost income in Long Beach, California. We will also help you develop a legal strategy, gather evidence and answer all your legal questions. We are available 24/7. Call Long Beach Workers Compensation Lawyer today at 714-716-5933 for a free initial consultation.