Compensation Benefits Under Maritime Laws
When a worker is injured on the job, typically there are specialized benefits available to assist them: employer-provided worker’s compensation, disability, etc. Naturally, these benefits fall under the jurisdiction of the usual state and federal laws.
What happens, however, when an individual is injured while working on open water? In this article, we’ll discuss the concept of maritime law; the types of compensation benefits it can provide to seamen, longshoremen, and other maritime employees; and the benefits of retaining a local maritime attorney.
What Is Maritime Law?
In general, maritime law is the body of legal rules and regulations governing the activities that occur at sea. Activities that may be covered under maritime law include shipping of cargo, transport of passengers, fishing, and more. In the United States, federal maritime law allows maritime workers/seamen to file suits and claims for compensation should they be injured on the job while performing maritime work duties.
Also sometimes called “admiralty law,” maritime law is an entirely separate legal jurisdiction from the usual federal body of law. Because it technically operates outside of national law, the maritime laws of all member states are held to the standards of the International Maritime Organization (171 members in all). The United States, of course, is one of these member states.
This international set of rules ensures the maintenance and regulation of appropriate and fair maritime laws worldwide. Ships must also carry appropriate IMO certification aboard at all times, and local governments are expected to enforce the relevant standards at all times.
Compensation Benefits Under Maritime Law: an Overview
Because maritime law was written specifically to address the legal rights of deckhands, fishermen, seamen, and others working on the water, the rules had to be carefully crafted to meet the varied, sometimes unusual, needs of this unique workforce.
Maritime injuries can occur in situations that an employee would never experience on land, like being made to work on an unseaworthy vessel. As such, the umbrella of maritime law contains a variety of other laws, acts, and regulations that seek to protect the rights of those laboring every day on navigable waters.
There are a variety of areas of U.S. maritime law, including Maintenance and Cure, The Jones Act, the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA), the Death on High Seas Act (DOHSA), and Passenger Personal Injury. The types of damages an injured worker can rightfully claim vary based on under which portion of the law a given incident falls.
The following are examples demonstrating which types of incidents might fall under which sections of maritime law:
• Maintenance and Cure
Nearly any kind of injury at sea—regardless of cause or fault—entitles a worker to compensation benefits under Maintenance and Cure. This section of maritime law is so-named because it relates to maintaining daily expenses and paying for any medical expenses needed to treat the related injury.
Examples of covered expenses under Maintenance and Cure include rent/mortgage payments, utility bills, taxes, food, hospital stays, doctor appointments, relevant medications, physical therapy, medical equipment, etc. This compensation will continue to be paid to an injured worker until such time as his or her doctor determines that it is safe to return to work.
• The Jones Act
This particular act exists to protect maritime workers who have specifically been injured as a result of negligence (generally on the part of another worker or the employer). Because this law hinges on employer liability, the injured party does have the burden of proof and must provide evidence that their injury happened at work and is the result of someone else’s negligence.
Fortunately for the injured individual, the burden of proof for negligence is generally easier to meet under maritime law than it might be in another kind of personal injury case. The Jones Act requires only that the employee is able to show that employer negligence was involved in some way in his or her injury (e.g., improper equipment maintenance, poorly cleaned decks, improper training, overworking, etc.).
• The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA)
By comparison to other areas of maritime law which deal only with those working on open water, the LHWCA covers all maritime workers working on or around navigable waters. This includes longshoremen, mechanics, and harbor workers who deal with vessels at the shore but may not work directly on the water.
The LHWCA stipulates that an injured worker may receive 66 2/3 percent of normal wages while they heal, and may be compensated further for especially serious injuries and/or disabilities (e.g., loss of limbs, paralysis, etc.). Should a maritime worker be killed on the job, the act states that his or her surviving spouse is entitled to 50% of average pay.
• The Death on High Seas Act (DOHSA)
As its name implies, DOHSA compensates the families of those who are killed on the job when working more than three miles from a U.S. shoreline (considered “high seas” for legal purposes). Claims for benefits under the Death on High Seas Act may only be filed by a spouse, child, or dependent (or a legal representative of any of these).
Compensation under DOHSA is calculated on a case-by-case basis, and generally includes the amount of income the individual would have provided to his or her family, as well as some consideration for the care that any dependent children will no longer receive from their deceased parent. Surviving family members who are entitled to compensation under this act have three years from the date of the individual’s death to file a claim for these benefits.
Of course, employee injury is not the only type of case that can be covered under maritime law; issues of property damage and passenger injury (such as on a cruise ship) can also fall under this special legal jurisdiction.
Under U.S. law, the majority of personal injury, collision, cargo damage, and other maritime cases can be brought in either state or federal court. However, cases involving shipowner liability, property/vessel arrests, salvage, and other property possession issues can typically only be brought in a federal court.
Trust an Expert Local Maritime Lawyer to Help You Seek Compensation as a Maritime Worker
If you or a loved one have been injured while working at sea or on the docks, you may be entitled to compensation benefits under maritime law. At Schechter, McElwee, Shaffer & Harris, L.L.P., our local maritime lawyers devote their legal expertise to helping injured maritime employees seek the damages they deserve. Leveraging decades of combined experience working in maritime law, we’ve helped clients just like you recover hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages as a result of maritime injuries.
To learn more about maritime law and how our local maritime attorneys can help you claim the benefits you deserve, contact us online or call us 24/7 at (888) 297-4553. We’ll help you set up a free, confidential case evaluation with one of our experienced Maintenance and Cure attorneys to discuss your situation and needs.