Jones Act Attorneys
The commercial maritime industry has always been relied upon to keep the U.S. economy moving. While great strides have been taken to make the industry safer for the men and women who work aboard seafaring vessels, these workers are still at a higher risk of sustaining a workplace injury than many others. To make matters worse, injured seafarers often do not have access to the kind of emergency medical care they need until they are rescued or their vessel is able to return to shore.
Though there may be some unfortunate situations that cannot be prevented, most maritime accidents can be traced back to some form of negligence on the part of an employer or a vessel’s owner. When an accident is caused by the negligence or recklessness of either party, accident victims can use the Jones Act to help hold whomever was responsible financially accountable for their pain and suffering.
At Williams Kherkher, our Jones Act attorneys understand just how overwhelming all of this legal work can seem, particularly if you are just beginning to deal with the consequences of your injuries. That being said, our lawyers can use the Jones Act to develop a legal strategy to help you aggressively pursue all of the compensation you will need to offset the considerable costs that will come to be associated with your recovery.
Using the Jones Act to Pursue Compensation
The Jones Act makes employers and the owners of seafaring vessels responsible for providing a safe workplace for the men and women working aboard their watercraft. Keeping that in mind, the Jones Act can be used by seafaring workers to hold either party liable for accidents that have been caused—in whole or in part—by the negligence or recklessness of their employer or the ship’s owner.
First and foremost, injured workers can collect immediate compensation for what is termed to be their “maintenance and cure,” regardless of who will eventually be held liable for the accident. Compensation for an injured worker’s “maintenance” refers to money that is paid to cover the cost of room and board that would normally have been provided to the injured worker if he or she was still on the job. These funds usually cover necessary household expenses like mortgage and rent payments, utilities, taxes, and other necessary expenses.
The “cure” portion of an injured worker’s compensation refers to the amount that will go toward medical and rehabilitative care until he or she is able to make as complete a medical recovery as possible. Additionally, employers will be expected to cover the cost of their injured employee’s transportation to and from medical facilities, along with the wages that the injured worker would have been paid until his or her voyage was complete.
Once their medical and rehabilitative care is underway, accident victims should reach out to an attorney who can help them determine whether their employer or the vessel’s owner may be held liable for the accident. If either party is found to be responsible, accident victims may hold them accountable for all the pain and suffering associated with the accident.
Determining Liability with the Jones Act
Under the Jones Act, employers have a legal responsibility to make sure that their employees have a reasonably safe environment in which they may work. Bearing that in mind, seafaring workers who sustain injures that could have been prevented can use the Jones Act to hold their employers liable for their injuries.
Employers may be held liable for any injuries that are sustained in accidents caused by the improper maintenance of vessels or their equipment. In addition to the physical conditions of the vessel and its equipment, employers may also be held liable for accidents that are caused by their employees, agents, and officers. For instance, employers may be held financially liable for any accident that is caused by a poorly trained employee.
When the vessel is owned by someone other than the employer, the vessel’s owner may still be held liable for any accident that is caused by the generally unsuitable condition of the vessel. In other words, if the vessel has been or could be deemed unseaworthy, accident victims are likely to have grounds for filing a claim against the vessel’s owner.
Proving Liability in Jones Act Claims
Unlike more standard negligence cases, victims of maritime accidents do not need to prove that their employer was the primary cause of their injury. Instead, all an accident victim will need to prove in these situations is that their employer’s negligence played some part in the accident that caused his or her injuries. That being said, even if an employer only shares 1% of the blame for the accident, the injured worker will be able to file a Jones Act claim against his or her employer.
What and Whom Does the Jones Act Cover?
The Jones Act covers employees who work on ships, rigs, crewed recreational boats, floating cranes, tankers, barges, and just about any other kind of vessel that is capable of moving on the water. Though it will not cover every person on a seafaring vessel, this legislation will cover any person that meets the legally defined requirements for being a “seaman.” When your attorney helps you determine your eligibility to file a Jones Act claim, you will discuss things like where your ship was ported, where it originated, and what flag it was flying in order to evaluate who may be held liable for your injury.
Who Qualifies as a “Seaman”?
Generally speaking, any person that spends any significant amount of time working as a crewmember or captain of any vessel that is in navigation will be considered to be a “seaman.” To be more specific, the following requirements must be met for a person to be protected under the Jones Act: 1) In order for the amount of time spent as a crewmember to be classified as “significant,” he or she must spend at least 30% of his or her time as an employee on a vessel or within a specific fleet of vessels; 2) A person must actually contribute to the work duties that are required to achieve the mission of the vessel he or she works aboard—there are only a handful of circumstances under which this requirement is not met; and 3) the vessel on which the seafarer works must be “in navigation,” which means that the vessel needs to be in navigable waters, in operation, capable of moving on its own, and, of course, afloat.
How long will I have to file my claim?
You will only have three years to file a claim under the Jones Act after sustaining your injury—this period of time is what is known as a statute of limitation. While most injuries sustained by seafaring workers may be immediately apparent, there are instances when injuries will take more time to manifest. As such, the statute of limitation for these claims will only come into effect once the accident victim is aware of his or her injury. This is particularly important in situations where seafaring workers develop occupational illnesses that are related to working aboard their employer’s vessel. If you fail to file your Jones Act claim within the statute of limitation, you will no longer be able to file your claim. Keeping that in mind, it will be important for you to begin working through the legal process as early on as you are able to do so.
Despite the fact that the maritime industries have played a central role in our economy for many years, it was not until 1920 that the rights of the men and women who worked aboard seafaring vessels were finally formalized with the Merchant Marines Act of 1920, which became known as the Jones Act. In 1970, the laws in the Jones Act were updated to help further protect the rights of seafaring workers. The Jones Act is now used to determine things like jurisdiction and liability after workers sustain injuries while performing job-related duties out on the seas.
Prior to the Jones Act, there were only limited grounds on which an accident victim could have pursued compensation for his or her injuries. In fact, the only grounds that accident victims had prior to the Jones Act were the precedents established in the U.S. court system and a number of other informal seafaring traditions that were in use by other countries at the time.
Once it was passed into law, the Jones Act made the Federal Employers Liability Act applicable to the maritime industries. As such, seafaring workers finally had the legal framework necessary to pursue compensation for injuries caused by the negligence of their employers and their ship owners. In order to prevent accidents from occurring in the first place, the Jones Act also placed the onus on employers to provide their workers with safe working environments.
Consult with a Jones Act Attorney about Your Accident
If you or someone you love was hurt in an accident while working out at sea, you should reach out to a Jones Act attorney at Williams Kherkher who can help you understand what legal action you can take under this legislation. Though this may be a difficult time for you and your family, it will be in your best interests to consult with a lawyer who understands the Jones Act as soon after the accident as you are able. To speak with one of our attorneys about the particulars of your accident, please call our offices at (888) 220-0640 today.