A Jones Act Lawyer is Here to Help Injured Seamen
If you are an individual who has been injured on an offshore platform, jack-up oil rig, ship, barge, tugboat or any other type of vessel, it is important for you to understand your legal rights as a seaman. The Jones Act and other general maritime laws provide important protections for seamen who are injured in the course of their employment.
Under the Jones Act, seamen include members of the crew of the vessel as well as individuals who are assigned to a fleet of vessels by an employer. For example, individuals who work on tankers, freighters, jack-up rigs, tugs, towboats, supply boats, barges, fishing vessels and semi-submersibles are generally considered to fall into the category of seamen under the Jones Act.
When you are injured in a maritime accident, your injuries are likely to be very painful and possibly even debilitating. As you probably are already well aware, your accident not only impacts your life but it the lives of the people you care most about. While you may be scared and confused it is important to talk with an attorney who knows how to handle maritime injury claims. An experienced lawyer can explain your legal rights and make certain that you receive all the benefits you are entitled to under the law, including lost wages and earnings from your employer.
Who Is a Jones Act Seaman?
One of the central questions in any maritime injury case is whether the injured party is a seaman, since only a seaman can recover under the Jones Act. A seaman is a member of the crew of a vessel or someone who assigned to a vessel or a fleet of vessels. For example, those who work on tankers, freighters, jack-up rigs, semi-submersibles, towboats / tugs, supply boats, crew boats, barges, lay barges, and fishing vessels are members of the crew are considered seamen. Those who are crew members on movable or jack-up drilling rigs are also seamen. Officers and crew are all considered seamen. Longshoremen, pilots, and those who work on fixed platforms are not seamen, but have other maritime remedies available for injuries. Often there is a dispute as to seamen status and whether the seaman was working on a vessel when he was injured. It is very important to allow the maritime injury attorney to study the facts surrounding the accident and the vessel to help make the determination of seaman status and to which law should apply.
The essential requirements for seaman status are:
- An employee’s duties must contribute to the function of the vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission;
- A seaman must have a connection with a vessel in navigation (or to an identifiable group of such vessels), that is substantial in terms of both its duration and its nature;
- The duration of a worker’s connection to a vessel and the nature of the worker’s activities, taken together, determine whether a maritime worker is a seaman because the ultimate inquiry is whether the worker in question is a member of the vessel’s crew or simply a land-based employee who happens to be working on a vessel at a given time;
- A distinction must be made between sea-based workers and land-based workers who have only a transitory or sporadic connection to a vessel in navigation. Land-based maritime workers do not become seamen because they happen to be working aboard a vessel when they are injured, and seamen do not lose Jones Act protection where the course of their service to a vessel takes them ashore. In evaluating the employment-related connection of a maritime worker to a vessel in navigation, courts should not employ a “snapshot” test for seamen status, inspecting only the situation as it exists at the instant of injury; but rather, the total circumstances of an individual’s employment must be weighed to determine whether he has a sufficient relation to the vessel and
- Jones Act coverage (seaman status) depends not on the place where the injury is inflicted, but on the nature of the seaman’s service, his status as a member of the vessel, and his relationship as such to the vessel and its operation in navigable waters.
What’s Your Seaman Status? Consult a Jones Act Attorney
One of the central questions for an attorney in any maritime injury case is whether the injured party is a seaman, since only a seaman can recover under the Jones Act. A seaman under the Jones Act must be a member of the crew of a vessel. A seaman can also be someone who assigned to a fleet of vessels for his employer. Whether person is seaman for purposes of 46 USCS Appx § 688 depends largely upon facts of particular case and activity in which he was engaged at time of injury; whether person has been in past, or expects in future to be, seaman does not render maritime work which is not maritime in its nature. Desper v Starved Rock Ferry Co. (1952) 342 US 187, 96 L Ed 205, 72 S Ct 216, reh den 342 US 934, 96 L Ed 695, 72 S Ct 374.
For example, those who work on tankers, freighters, jack-up rigs, semi-submersibles, towboats / tugs, supply boats, crew boats, barges, lay barges, and fishing vessels are members of the crew are considered seamen. Those who are crewmembers on movable or jack-up drilling rigs are seamen.Congress, in passing Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, limited application of term “seaman” in JonesAct to “a master or member of a crew of any vessel.” Mietla v Warner Co. (1975, ED Pa) 387 F Supp 937. The Captain, the Officers and the crew are all considered seamen. Longshoremen, pilots, and those who work on fixed platforms are not normally classified as seamen, but may have other maritime remedies available for to them for their injuries. To be Jones Act seaman entitled to sue for negligence, as well as breach of warranty of seaworthiness, but not entitled to longshoremen’s compensation, vessel must be in navigation, there must be more or less permanent connection with ship, and worker must be aboard naturally and primarily as aid to navigation. Salgado v M. J. Rudolph Corp. (1975, CA2 NY) 514 F2d 750. Often there is a dispute as to seamen status and whether the seaman was working on a vessel when he was injured. It is therefore very important to allow the Jones Act attorney to study the facts surrounding the accident and the vessel to help make the determination of seaman status.
If you are a seaman and have been injured on a ship or vessel and your employer is not paying your medical bills, refusing to send you to a medical specialist or not paying your maintenance, then call us for a Free Confidential Consultation at 1-800-468-4878.
What Rights do Injured Seamen Have?
Below are several important rights that the law provides for an injured seamen:
Right to Collect Maintenance and Cure from the Employer. Injured seamen have an absolute right to collect maintenance and cure benefits from an employer if they are injured or become ill while in the service of a ship or vessel. Employers are required to provide these benefits regardless of who may be at fault for the seaman’s injuries or accident. “Maintenance” benefits are daily payments which are meant to compensate the injured seaman for the costs of living on land in the same manner the seaman lived offshore. “Cure” payments compensate the seaman for the medical care and services needed to treat his injury or illness.
Right to File a Negligence Suit Against the Employer. Under the Jones Act, when a seaman is hurt on the job due to the negligence of his employer or a co-worker, the seaman has the right to file a negligence Jones Act lawsuit or claim against the employer. In these cases, the burden of proof is very low and the employer can be held liable for almost any unsafe condition on the vessel. For instance, if a seaman slips and falls on an oily deck and is injured, the seaman may be able to file a claim or lawsuit for damages from the employer for lack of maintenance or negligence on the part of a co-worker for failing to properly clean the area.
Right to File a Negligence Claim Against the Owner of the Vessel. In many situations, a worker may be employed by one company while the ship or vessel they are working on is owned by another company. In these cases, an injured worker can file an unseaworthiness claim against the owner of the vessel along with a negligence claim against the employer. An unseaworthiness claim arises when the owner of the vessel fails to make sure that the vessel and its equipment is safe and in proper working order. When a seaman is injured due to the unseaworthiness of the vessel, the seaman has the right to sue the vessel owner for damages. If the vessel owner is also the injured worker’s employer, then the worker may be able to file both a Jones Act negligence case and an unseaworthiness claim
Other Legal Actions. Often when a maritime accident occurs, other parties in addition to the employer and vessel owner may be held liable for a seaman’s injuries. Depending upon the circumstances of the injury and accident, the seaman may be able to file a legal action against certain third party defendants, including product manufacturers, contractors, equipment suppliers and maintenance and repair companies.
Unearned Wages – Absolute Right
Under the Jones Act, when a seaman becomes ill or is injured while in the service of the vessel, the seaman has the right to collect unearned wages from his or her employer. The Jones Act provides that your right to collect these wages is absolute, which means your employer must pay unearned wages to you regardless of who is to blame for your illness or injuries. Your right to collect these wages begins from the time of your injury or illness through the end of your voyage or contract.
If you are an injured seaman it is important to work with a law firm that can help you collect the full amount of your unearned wages. Employers may try to avoid making any lost wages payments to you by claiming you are only entitled to maintenance and cure benefits. Employers may also dispute the amount of time left on your contract and in other cases you may not even have a written agreement specifying the term of your employment. In these situations it is very important to take quick action and speak with an attorney as soon as possible.
Lost Wages and Loss of Future Earning Capacity-Employer Negligence
When a seaman is injured due to the negligence of his or her employer, the seaman will be permitted to file a lawsuit against the employer to recover damages. The types of damages available in these types of cases are similar to those in a traditional personal injury lawsuit and include past lost wages as well as the compensation for loss of future earning capacity.
Unlike your unearned wages and maintenance and cure benefits, in order to recover compensation for lost wages and loss of future earning capacity you must prove you were harmed by the negligent actions of your employer or fellow crewmembers. While the burden of proof in these types of cases is very low, it is important to work with a lawyer who can gather and preserve the evidence needed to properly support your claim.
It is also very important to make sure you are being treated by the right doctors. The work restrictions your physician puts in place after your treatment is complete and will dictate what kind of work you are able to do in the future. Do not be forced or bullied into receiving your care from the company doctor. He or she may release you to full duty work regardless of the severity of your injuries. If this happens, you may lose the right to recover for future loss of earning capacity.
Protecting Your Rights as a Seaman: Let Our Jones Act Lawyers Answer Questions
If you are an individual who makes a living working on or near the water, you probably know co-workers who have been injured and filed Jones Act claims. While you may have a basic understanding of what the Jones Act is, our law firm has found that when a maritime accident takes places, workers have many questions about their rights and protections under the Jones Act. We have taken the time to answer some of the most frequently asked Jones Act questions, check out the questions and answers below:
If I am injured on the job, how am I going to live without a steady paycheck?
When a worker is involved in a serious maritime accident, one of the first things the worker will ask our firm is: “How am I going to live without a paycheck?” Under the Jones Act, an injured seaman is entitled to receive maintenance and cure payments from his or her employer. Your employer is legally required to make these payments to you regardless of who is at fault for your injuries.
What is Maintenance and Cure?
Maintenance and cure payments are benefits that your employer is required to pay you if you are a seaman who is injured in the course or scope of your employment. “Maintenance” payments are meant to cover your reasonable living expenses while you are recovering from your work injury or illness. “Cure” payments are compensation for the reasonable medical care you will need to treat your injuries. It is important to know that you will only receive these benefits until you reach “maximum medical cure” – the point at which your doctor determines that you will no longer improve even if you continue to receive additional medical care.
Where is the best place to file my case as an injured seaman?
This question does not come with a simple answer. The best place to file your claim will depend upon the specific facts and circumstances of your accident and where your company is based. When you are injured, it is best to seek the advice of an attorney who is very familiar with both Jones Act claims and lawsuits filed under general maritime laws. Your attorney will carefully review your case to figure out the best place for filing.
Should I continue to speak with my employer once I’ve contacted a Jones Act Lawyer?
When you have been involved in a workplace accident, you should try to talk as little as possible about your case to anyone. While it is fine to maintain a friendly and amicable relationship with your employer and co-workers, you should avoid discussing the details of your accident or injuries. If your employer is bullying or pressuring you to talk or provide information, you should speak with your attorney immediately.
Should I give a recorded statement to an investigator representing the company?
Absolutely not. If your employer or an investigator asks you to provide any type of sworn or recorded statement you should never do so until after you have talked with your attorney. You should refuse the request and tell your employer that you need to speak with your lawyer first. Remember, these statements can be easily twisted and used against you in the future.
Willis Law Firm can help. Contact us today at 1-800-468-4878. We will make sure that you are receiving all of the lost wages and other benefits you are entitled to collect under the law.