Protecting Your Rights Under the Jones Act
In 1920, the U.S. Congress passed the Merchant Act of 1920. This act has come to be known as the Jones Act. It contains specific provisions which outline specific requirements for those businesses operating in maritime industries. It also provides protections for employees in the event of negligence by their employer, fellow employees, captains, or other crew members resulting in accidents causing personal injuries.
The United States Supreme Court established the qualifications to determine whether an employee is considered protected under the Jones Act in the case of Chandris, Inc., v. Latis, 515 U.S. 347, 115 S. Ct. 2172 (1995).1 To qualify for seamen’s rights under the Jones Act, the employee must be in the service of a vessel in navigation for more than thirty percent of his or her time.
This provision extends to oil rig workers, dock workers, and others, as allowed under the act. One of our Jones Act lawyers can help you determine whether you meet the qualifications to be considered a protected seaman under the Jones Act. If not, there may be other maritime laws or acts for which you could be entitled to for filing a claim against your employer in the event of an accident where you sustained personal injuries while in the service of a vessel or on the job.
What Rights Does the Jones Act Provide Seamen?
There are numerous risks and potential dangers seamen face every day. The Jones Act relates to specific working conditions, negligence caused by employers, ships’ captains, other crew members, and other such aspects of working in maritime industries. One of the key factors is the seaworthiness of the vessel.
Specifically, is the vessel in proper working order, is it correctly maintained, and does it provide a safe working environment for employees? If the vessel is deemed unseaworthy, for one or more reasons, seamen could have grounds to file for damages allowed under the Jones Act if they are injured while in the service of the vessel.
Employers have a responsibility to maintain safe working conditions at all times, which include:
- Properly maintaining the vessel for safe operations.
- Providing proper training for employees on specific job duties.
- Ensuring there is the correct number of employees available to complete tasks.
- Training employees how to correctly and safely use equipment, tools, and other such materials related to their jobs.
- Providing access to personal protection equipment (PPE), such as hard hats, work gloves, and other attire, as required for certain types of job functions.
- Verifying all equipment, machines, and tools used to complete tasks are functioning and operating correctly.
How Do Seamen Risk Their Jones Act Rights?
After being injured while in the service of a vessel, typically, the ship’s onboard doctor will provide an evaluation and emergency treatment. If the injuries are more serious, then efforts are made to transport the injured worker back to land for proper medical care and treatment.
It is not uncommon for the seaman’s employer to request the worker seek care and treatment through a company-approved doctor or health care provider. The company’s doctor may tell the worker his or her injuries are not as severe as they think. They may also release the seaman back to work sooner than the time they need to recover from the injury.
In addition, an injured worker may be contacted directly by the employer’s insurance company and offered a settlement, depending on the extent of injuries and recovery time needed. Many seamen risk their Jones Act rights because their employer, company doctor, and company insurance provider make it sound like they are working in the employee’s best interests when, in fact, this is not always the case.
The goal of any insurance company, whether it is to settle a conventional personal injury claim or a maritime claim covered under the Jones Act, is to get the person to settle for the least amount possible.
The amount being offered may not even cover future medical costs should additional treatments for the injury be required later. Seamen who sign off on accepting whatever settlement is offered, and who return to work once released, are essentially giving up their Jones Act rights.
Steps to Follow to Protect Your Jones Act Claim’s Rights
If you are insured while in the service of a vessel, it is important to report the accident and injury immediately. Even if a worker sustains minor injuries, they should seek medical care with the onboard or company doctor, as well as verify an accident/injury incident report is completed.
Next, as soon as possible, contact our Jones Act law firm. You have the legal right to consult with a maritime lawyer to determine whether your employer, their insurance company, and the company doctor are, indeed, serving your best interests.
If any individual representing the interests of your employer informs you there is no need for you to consult with your own lawyer, this should be a big “red flag” and warning that you probably should discuss your case with your own lawyer.
Your lawyer will review the cause of the accident, the extent of your injuries, what type of medical treatment and care are being offered by your employer, and other such aspects. They will provide you with sound legal advice, educate you about what rights you have, and lend their knowledge so you can make informed decisions on how you want to proceed.
What if I Were Partially at Fault for Causing the Accident?
Unlike conventional personal injury claims, where one party must be entirely at fault, with Jones Act claims the law works differently. You can file a claim even if you were considered partially at fault for causing the accident resulting in personal injuries to yourself.
The Jones Act treats all seamen equally and does not distinguish between deck hands, crew members, captains, and others. Furthermore, simply demonstrating partial negligence on the part of another seaman could be sufficient grounds for filing a claim, without having to prove negligence against your employer.
How Are Seamen Compensated for Injuries?
The Jones Act has a provision that refers to Maintenance and Cure. Maintenance is the compensation given to the injured party to cover their basic living expenses and lost wages. Cure is the compensation given for medical care and treatment until the seaman is released back to work.
Some employers and their insurance companies will use stall tactics to delay making payments to injured parties. If your employer does this, then it could create a situation where you could also be entitled to file for punitive damages against them with help from our maritime lawyers.
In cases where the vessel you were in the service of is deemed to be unseaworthy, there could be other types of compensation you could seek, such as pain and suffering. This is why it is best to talk to a lawyer at our Jones Act law firm.
What if My Spouse Died While in the Service of a Vessel?
Surviving spouses of seamen who died while in the service of a vessel due to personal injuries from an accident could have grounds for filing a wrongful death claim against the employer through the Jones Act. The amount of compensation sought in these types of cases depends on several factors and can be rather complex.
If your loved one died and his or her employer or the employer’s insurance company contacts you directly to make a settlement offer, do not agree to it until you consult with your own lawyer. Potentially, you could be entitled to receive a higher amount of compensation than what they are currently offering.
In summary, as a seaman working in the maritime industry, you have certain legal rights and protections provided by Jones Act Law. In order to preserve your rights, you need to refrain from signing any documents or accepting any settlement offer until after you have sought your own legal advice from Maintenance and Cure. Call us at 1-800-836-5830 to speak with a maritime lawyer now!