A maritime injury is a term for when a worker on a ship gets hurt while the vessel is on U.S. navigable water. Maritime workers do not qualify for traditional workers’ compensation coverage, but they do have legal remedies for their employment-related injuries. The worker can pursue compensation under maritime law or the Jones Act.
The Jones Act
To help you understand what a maritime injury is, we will look at the statute itself. According to the Jones Act, specifically 46 U.S. Code § 30101, the United States’ admiralty and maritime jurisdiction applies to injuries that happen because of a “vessel on navigable waters,” even if the harm occurs on land. The injury could be fatal or non-fatal.
Some people who work on or adjacent to navigable water qualify for coverage under the Jones Act, but others do not. Employees in traditional maritime occupations like harbor construction, shipbuilding, ship repair, and longshore workers have their own federal law that provides legal remedies if they get hurt on the job. According to the Department of Labor, those employees must pursue their injury claims under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LWHCA).
The Confusion About Seamen
The Jones Act applies to injured seamen, but the statute does not define the term “seamen.” The Jones Act and the LWHCA are mutually exclusive, meaning that if you qualify for coverage under one act, you are not eligible for the benefits of the other one.
The LWHCA excludes seamen, which it defines as the masters or crew members of a vessel. Reading the two statutes together, many courts suggest that, through the exclusion language of the LHWCA, the Jones Act applies to the masters and crew members of vessels on navigable water.
The Department of Labor also says that seaman status does not require that one’s tasks involve navigation or other transportation functions. It is enough that a worker’s job helps the vessel function and fulfill its mission.
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Legal Remedies for Maritime Injuries
When a person with seaman status gets injured, they have several options for pursuing a claim for their losses. They can pursue remedies under general maritime law or the Jones Act. They could file a lawsuit in civil court, choosing either state or federal court.
General Maritime Law
When a worker gets hurt at sea, the employer must pay maintenance and cure benefits. “Maintenance” is daily living expenses, like room and board, for the seaman until they can return to their post or the journey ends. “Cure” is a term for medical bills. The boss must pay the medical expenses for the injuries until the worker is fit for duty or will not get better with additional medical intervention.
If the injured person can show that the unseaworthiness of the vessel or its crew caused the injury, they can go after the ship’s owner for financial compensation. A boat’s owner has a duty to provide a seaworthy vessel. This obligation cannot get delegated to anyone for the owner to escape liability.
Unsafe working conditions, lack of safety equipment or training, staffing shortages, slipping and tripping hazards, and excessive work hours are a few examples of things that can amount to unseaworthiness. Some problems with crew members can cause the conditions to be unseaworthy.
Compensation Under the Jones Act
The Jones Act allows an injured seaman to take their employer to court seeking monetary damages for their losses. The plaintiff can file the lawsuit in the state or federal civil courts and get a jury trial. If the injured worker institutes the litigation in a state court, the employer does not have an option to remove it to federal court.
The Jones Act lets successful plaintiffs recover:
- Lost wages for the unpaid time the worker missed because of their injuries
- Anticipated future wage loss caused by the injury
- The reasonable cost of medical treatment for their injuries
- General pain and suffering damages for the physical discomfort and emotional distress the plaintiff endured because of the accident and their injuries
There is no pre-set amount for these damages. The amount of compensation the plaintiff can pursue will depend on the unique facts of the case. Every case is different. Two seamen who get injured in the same accident could have vastly different damages. Various factors can impact the amount of damages a seaman may get for a maritime injury, such as:
- The type and severity of the injuries
- The medical treatments the seaman had to undergo
- Any side effects or complications the plaintiff experienced
- How well the injured person healed
- Residual impairments and limitations from the injuries after completing medical treatment
Preserving Your Rights Under the Jones Act
While injured seamen have a right to seek compensation under the Jones Act, this right is not indefinite. 46 U.S.C. § 30106 gives injured seamen a certain period of time to start a case. This “countdown” begins from the date of the accident. The amount of time you have to file may vary depending on your exact circumstances.
Missing the relevant deadline means you give up all right to compensation under this act. Therefore, it is very important that you act quickly if you wish to recover damages.
What Types of Maritime Injury Warrant Compensation?
As long as you can prove that your injury occurred as a direct result of doing your job and/or that another party’s negligence contributed to the injury, you could qualify for damages. Such injuries may include but are not limited to:
- Bone fractures (broken bones)
- Concussions and other head injuries
- Temporary or permanent disability (e.g., blindness or the loss of a limb)
- Fatal injuries
These injuries could come about for a variety of reasons, such as:
- Being trapped beneath, behind, or between equipment
- Being exposed to toxic substances or materials
- Being struck on the head by falling equipment
- Falling from a height or into an uncovered hole or pit
- Slippery surfaces that increase the risk of falling
Proving You Suffered a Maritime Injury
No matter what sort of injury you suffered, getting compensation is often crucial to helping you support your family as you heal—or over the long term if you can never return to the type of work you did before. To improve your chances of recovering a fair amount of compensation, you can take the following steps.
Report Your Injury Right Away
You must tell your employer about the injury as soon as possible (after receiving medical treatment, if your wounds are serious or life-threatening). Any gap between the injury and your report could make it seem like the injury had another cause for which your employer is not responsible.
When you report the injury, be as detailed as possible. Omissions can, again, introduce doubt to your case.
It is not enough to simply say that you suffered a maritime injury. You need to support and strengthen your case with evidence from sources such as:
- Testimony from coworkers who witnessed the accident or are familiar with workplace conditions
- Medical records
- Any available audiovisual recordings
- Testimony from experts who can confirm the injury and its likely cause
- Receipts, bills, and other paperwork you have that proves the extent of your injuries
Consider Hiring a Maritime Injury Attorney
All of the above – plus other necessary tasks, including speaking with insurance companies or arguing your case in court – can be very stressful. You do not have to handle it all alone; hiring a personal injury attorney with experience in cases like yours may enable you to fight for damages while remaining focused on your physical and emotional recovery.
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If You Suffered a Maritime Injury, Call Today
You do not have to sort through all these legal issues or try to calculate the amount of your money damages on your own. Laborde Earles Injury Lawyers handles maritime injury claims. You can call us today at (337) 777-7777 to get started. The initial consultation is free, and there is no obligation.