Filing a claim for a personal injury while working offshore can be confusing. Regular land-based laws do not apply. Maritime laws designed to cover accidents on navigable waters are different from conventional laws.
The Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (also called The Jones Act) is federal legislation passed to protect seamen who become hurt or ill while at sea, but not all accidents that happen away from land are covered under this law.
What is The Jones Act? Let’s break down the terms and conditions needed to file a claim.
JONES ACT DEFINITIONS
There are specific definitions associated with this type of claim. Understanding them is the first step towards making a good decision.
Individuals who work in and around ocean vessels and oil rigs are called maritime workers, but not all maritime workers are covered under The Jones Act. Accident and injury claims can only be filed for those classified as seamen.
A seaman is a maritime worker who spends a lot of time working as a captain or crewman on a vessel that is in navigation. There have been questions over the actual amount of time required to be on the ship, and recent rulings have said 30% of their time must be onboard.
To qualify to file under this law, the seaman must be doing work related to the vessel’s function and purpose. The job title or type of position is not an issue.
For the purpose of these claims, a vessel in navigation is defined as a boat or offshore oil rig that is in operation, floating, able to move and in navigable waters. The definition of navigable waters is bodies of waters used for international and interstate commerce.
A claim can be made for an injury or death resulting from the careless act of an employer or a co-worker, exposure to dangerous working conditions, falls, unsafe equipment, a collision or any other number of reasons.
When more than one company has responsibilities on the vessel it can be difficult to determine who is liable. When the jobs and supervision are divided it takes an experienced Jones Act attorney to make sure the proper parties are held accountable.
Owners of ships can be held liable if it is proven the accident resulted from an unsafe condition aboard the maritime vessel. Regardless of why or how the worker was hurt, certain medical expenses and other compensation must be paid.
The biggest difference between a Jones Act claim and standard workman’s compensation is the ability to file a negligence suit against the employer. There is no fault assigned to most land-based employee injury claims. Those policies just cover a certain amount of damages.
By adding the option to prove negligence, the seamen have a greater chance of holding their employers completely accountable for the injury and other damages.
Negligence is defined when an employer or coworker assigns unreasonable or unnecessary risks and a seaman is injured in the process. The amount of fault is extremely important and goes to help decide the amount of money they can receive.
It may be the poor condition of the vessel that caused the injury and not the actions of someone on board. The term used to describe this in the proceedings is unseaworthiness.
The owner of each vessel has the legal obligation to make sure they provide a safe working environment with maintained equipment and proper training of the crew. If this is not done, there are grounds for liability against the employer or ship owner.
Damages for these types of injuries fall into two categories: economic and non-economic.
Economic damages include covering medical expenses as well as any future medical needs related to the injury. It also covers lost wages and future lost earnings potential.
Non-economic damages are simply the pain, suffering and emotional distress caused by the accident. Future physical pain also falls under this provision. The category also includes punitive damages against the employer for dangerous conditions.
Under a negligence claim, additional damages can be sought for improper or lack of medical care on site or failing to search and/or rescue a seaman who went overboard.
If you are hurt and believe your injury falls under The Jones Act, you should immediately report it to your employer, captain or the senior officer on duty. By law you have a seven-day window, but the sooner the better. (There is a three-year statute of limitation for the amount of time to file a lawsuit.)
Seek medical attention at once, even if your injury seems minor. You will need documentation and medical proof of any treatment, tests or diagnosis. Do not continue to work after the accident or injury until you are seen by emergency personnel or the medical officer. If you wait to report the incident, the insurance company can use that against you.
You should request and follow up, if possible, to make sure the captain enters the incident into the ship’s log. A senior official onboard must also file a CG-2692 (Report of Marine Accident, Injury or Death).
As soon as you feel up to it, fill out the accident report and provide as many details as possible.
If you know who may have been negligent or what equipment malfunctioned, make note of all necessary information. Do not make any false statements and do not be forced into leaving out important details. Hand the report over to the captain and request confirmation that it was sent to the ships HR department.
It is in your best interest at this point to contact an experienced Jones Act attorney. You will be asked to provide a statement and you may also be asked to sign forms and documents related to the accident. Your lawyer can make sure your rights are protected and you get the full benefits you deserve.
If you are a seaman who has been injured, there are many questions and concerns to deal with. You need a Maritime Lawyer with experience in handling cases under The Jones Act.
At the Heard Law Firm, we are dedicated to fully represent your claim and win the compensation you deserve. Contact us today.