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The Jones Act protects injured seamen, offering legal recourse against employers and coworkers whose negligence causes injury during the course of employment on a vessel. Those claims made under the Jones Act can also potentially raise claims that a vessel was or is unseaworthy. In the event that a seaman dies, wrongful death may be claimed based on the Jones Act, on general maritime law, or on a separate federal statute, the Death on the High Seas Act.
The Jones Act offers remedies to seamen injured during the course of work on a vessel. This federal act enhances provisions from the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), a statute providing remedies for injured workers. As a result of the Jones Act, injured seamen may recover damages from their employer when the negligence of that employer or a co-worker causes injury. The Jones Act is specific in its application only to seamen: individuals with a vocational connection to and who contribute to the function or mission of a navigating vessel.
Stated simply, the Jones Act covers those persons who do the ship’s work. An individual whose work is covered by the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act may, in some cases, also be treated as a Jones Act seaman. A competent maritime attorney can figure out whether or not a particular individual is a seaman for purposes of the Jones Act.
In some cases, the Jones Act may protect seamen even when they are not working on a vessel. Should the seaman be injured while temporarily working elsewhere, the Jones Act may still be applicable, as long as the temporary assignment is “in the service of the ship.”
Failure to provide a safe workplace may give rise to a claim under the Jones Act, if the vessel or another location under the employer’s control is the “unsafe place.” Unseaworthiness claims may be pursued under the Jones Act if the employer is also the owner of the vessel, and if the injury was caused by an unsafe condition on the vessel. An employer may also be liable if an outstanding condition is a violation of a safety statute, and that condition caused the injury. Finally, an employer may be liable for failure to provide medical care.
Under the Jones Act, employers are liable not only for their own negligence, but also for the negligent behavior of other employees or individuals for which the employer is responsible. This most directly includes other employee’s, i.e. an injured seaman’s coworkers. Additionally, sometimes independent contractors may be viewed as the responsibility of the employer.
An employer must attempt search and rescue for any overboard seaman as long as it is feasible that he/she may still be alive in the water. Failing to do this can result in liability under the Act.
Under the Jones Act, employers owe their seamen a higher duty of care than in an ordinary negligence case. Due to this, employers may be liable if the breach of duty, however small, in any way contributed to the seaman’s injury. An employer’s liability may be reduced in cases in which a seaman contributed to his/her own injury. Even if the seaman willfully proceeded with a dangerous activity that resulted in injury, the compensation cannot be reduced under the Jones Act.
Generally, a Jones Act claim must be brought within three years of the injury. A qualified lawyer should advise on when and where is best to file such a claim.
The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act
The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act is a comprehensive workers’ compensation program for maritime workers injured in navigable waters. The law spans the legal “gap” between the Jones Act – protecting seamen – and state workers’ compensation – protecting injured workers within a particular state, but rarely on navigable water.
This compensation system is administrated by the Federal Department of Labor. Injured workers qualifying for coverage are legally entitled to disability benefits. Under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, entitlement to benefits is not dependent on proving the employer at fault for worker’s injuries.
The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act covers injuries occurring in the course of maritime employment. “Maritime employment” may include the loading/unloading of vessels, the repair and building of vessels. “Navigable waters” may be defined as places beyond those where a boat could float. In this definition, navigable water may also include places on land adjoining water. A worker injured on a pier, wharf, dry dock, or terminal, can be compensated under the Act. Similarly, areas near a pier or wharf can also be included in navigable waters such as areas for loading, unloading, repairing, or building vessels.
The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act provides disability and medical benefits, as well as rehab services. Medical services must direcly relate to the work-related injury or illness. Occupational diseases “arising naturally” out of maritime employment may also be included.
An employee injured on the job has only thirty days to give notice of the injury. When an employee develops a work-related, disabling condition or illness, notice must also be provided. A formal claim for benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act must be filed within one year with the Department of Labor.
An employer may formally dispute the claim, or may begin payment voluntarily within two weeks (fourteen days) of the date of the accident. Should an employer dispute a claim, there exists a conciliation procedure to help the involved parties come to an agreement and resolve the dispute. If the parties are unable to resolve the problem, a hearing with an administrative law judge (ALJ) will be convened to render a decision.
Finally, the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act allows an injured worker to sue any persons or entities (additional to the employer) believed to be at fault for his or her injuries.
In order to pursue compensation for lost wages, you’ll have to properly calculate what you’ve lost and what you will lose in the future due to your injury. This should include healthcare benefits, retirement matching, and other benefits you receive as part of your employment.
To calculate this number, you simply go back to when you first had to leave work due to your injury. If you are paid hourly, calculate how many hours you would have worked if you had not been injured. Multiply that by your hourly rate, and then add on the benefits you would have received on each missed paycheck.
If you receive a salary, determine your weekly salary by dividing your annual income by 52. Multiply that number by how many weeks you have missed since your injury.
It can be difficult to calculate lost wages if you receive unusual employment benefits or multiple financial benefits as part of your work. This is a good topic to bring up with your maritime injury attorney.
What About Lost Future Income?
Perhaps you’ve suffered a serious injury while working offshore—serious enough to require you to leave the industry forever or cut back on your hours. If so, your family’s long-term financial stability could be threatened by your injury. In this situation, you may be able to receive compensation for lost future income.
This is a more difficult calculation since it doesn’t involve actual missed days of work. It is based on lost theoretical days, months, or years of work. You may have to calculate a number based on your current role, raises you could expect to receive each year, and additional benefits you would expect to receive after putting in enough years of service.
You might also need to calculate wages lost due to promotion opportunities you can no longer pursue. If your injury requires you to decrease your hours, your calculation may involve figuring out the difference between how much you’ll be able to earn and what you would have been able to earn if you had not become injured.
- Maritime Law
- Types of Jones Act Injuries
- Death on the High Seas Act
- Maritime Law Limitation of Liability
- Maintenance and Cure
- Jones Act Questions
If you or a loved one is in need of legal assistance, call Reeves & Mestayer, PLLC at 228-374-5151 or toll free 1-855-558-2977 or contact us online. The initial consultation is free of charge, and if we agree to handle your case, we will work on a contingency fee basis, which means we get paid for our services only if there is a monetary recovery of funds. In many cases, a lawsuit must be filed before an applicable expiration date, known as a statute of limitations. Please call right away to ensure that you do not waive your right to possible compensation.