The difference between workers’ compensation and Jones Act claims starts with the place where you file your claim. In a Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Law (RS 23:1020.1) claim, you will pursue benefits for your lost wages and injuries through the workers’ compensation system. In a Jones Act claim, however, you will file a claim in civil court against your employer (46 U.S.C. § 30104).
Another major difference is that in a workers’ compensation claim, the employee is not required to show that the employer was negligent. In other words, fault is not an issue. When filing a Jones Act claim, the employee must provide evidence to establish that their employer acted negligently or allowed carelessness in the workplace.
Qualifying Under the Jones Act
Another key distinction between a workers’ compensation claim and a Jones Act claim is that in the latter, only certain types of workers are covered. The act is intended to provide seamen and their families with financial support if they are hurt on the job.
A seaman is defined under the law as someone who has a job connected to a specific vessel or shipping company. The seaman must perform at least 30% of his job duties with that vessel or the employer’s fleet. The duties that the seaman performs must also contribute directly to the vessel’s function or to completing its objectives. If you meet these two requirements, then you are covered under the Jones Act.
A seaman is distinguished from a shore-based worker under this act. This typically includes individuals who work in a port or harbor and those hurt while working on a vessel. They are not automatically eligible to file a claim under the Jones Act.
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The “In Navigation” Requirement
If you are a seaman pursuing benefits through a Jones Act claim, you must also show that the ship you were working on has a legal requirement to be “in navigation.” This means that it is floating on water, operable, and can travel without assistance from other ships or tugboats. It must also be in navigable waters, which includes inland lakes shared by two or more states or linked to other navigable bodies of water, oceans, and rivers.
The ship you are working on does not have to be moving to make you eligible for compensation under the Jones Act. It can be docked or moored as long as it is still on the water, performing its duties, and under corporate ownership. If it is dry-docked for repairs, however, it is not considered to be in navigation.
Proving Fault in a Jones Act Case
The core difference between a workers’ compensation claim and a Jones Act claim is the requirement of proving fault for the latter. Working as a seaman can be incredibly dangerous. Many laws aim to make sure a workplace is safe and free of unreasonable dangers, but some maritime employers ignore these rules or cut corners.
A few ways your employer may have acted negligently include the following:
Lack of Proper Drug or Alcohol Screening for Employees
Employees who get high or drink on the job can cause accidents and injuries to others. Employers who place their employees in potentially dangerous situations and do not administer drug screens can be held liable if one of their workers causes harm to another due to being under the influence of an intoxicating substance.
Failure to Run Background Checks for New Employees
Background checks are vital because they allow employers to determine whether a potential employee has a criminal record. This is especially important when the person in question has a history of aggression or violence against other individuals – a problem that can easily bleed over into the workplace.
Lack of Adequate Safety Gear
Louisiana has rules and regulations, also known as Maritime Law, that govern watercraft, including specific safety equipment that must be stored on a vessel. A lack of life jackets, for example, may be grounds for a Jones Act case.
Ignoring Applicable Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Guidelines
With the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, Congress created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to ensure employees healthy and safe working conditions by setting and enforcing standards and providing training, education, outreach, and assistance. Failure to adhere to OSHA guidelines may be grounds for a Jones Act lawsuit.
Failure to Provide Adequate Lighting
Proper lighting is crucial for operating a watercraft. Lack of adequate lighting can easily result in accidents, and therefore, damages incurred due to this problem may be grounds for a lawsuit based on the Jones Act.
Not Assigning a Reasonable Amount of Work
If a crew member is assigned an unreasonable amount of work in which they are at risk for fatigue, they may be more prone to making mistakes that lead to accidents. They may also incur harm themselves due to working too much. If this occurs, the employee or others who sustain injuries due to this problem may file a Jones Act lawsuit and ask for compensation for damages.
Failure to Ensure Employees Have Proper Training
Workers who are not properly trained may unintentionally cause accidents and injuries to others. Therefore, an employer has a duty to ensure that employees are adequately trained, and if they are not, the employer may be held legally liable for any accidents that occur.
The operation of vessels requires the adequate staffing of crew members to run safely and efficiently. Therefore, an employer’s inability to ensure that enough crew members are available to operate a vessel efficiently may be considered legally liable if an accident or injuries occur as a result.
Lack of Adequate Maintenance and Repairs on Equipment
Vessel equipment must be in good working condition and be upkept in terms of repairs and maintenance. Safety inspections must be conducted regularly to ensure that the work environment is safe and free from hazards. Poorly maintained equipment that leads to an accident or injury involving a crew member may be grounds for filing a Jones Act lawsuit.
The Vessel Is in Poor Condition
In addition to equipment, the vessel itself must be in good working order. This means it has been adequately maintained and repaired. An employer’s failure to do so may make them liable for damages based on the Jones Act.
Hazardous Conditions Present
The Jones Act states that the crew must not be required to work in inclement weather or dangerous conditions. Placing employees in harm’s way can lead to accidents and injuries, and ultimately the employer may be liable for any personal damages incurred.
There could be other ways your employer puts your safety at risk. If you are unsure about whether your employer was negligent, take diligent notes about the situation that caused your injury.
Write down the names of witnesses who may be able to testify on your behalf about what happened to you. And, finally, make sure you see a doctor as soon as possible to get treated for your injuries if you have not done so already.
If you are hurt on the job, it is also important to notify your employer or supervisor within seven days so that an official statement can be made about the injury and the basis for fault.
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Damages in a Jones Act Claim
If you are successful at proving fault, there are a number of damages you may be eligible to receive. The Jones Act provides specific categories of damages to an injured seaman, including:
- Maintenance: this covers the reasonable household expenses that you incur monthly.
- Cure: this covers your medical expenses that are reasonably related to your injuries.
- Unearned wages: this covers the wages you would have received through the end of the season or your predetermined work period.
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Laborde Earles Injury Lawyers offers a free consultation to help you understand more about the Jones Act, workers’ compensation claims, and whether you are entitled to compensation. If you are in the Lafayette area and want to know more about the difference between workers’ compensation and Jones Act claims, call us, or fill out our contact form.
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