Offshore workers are vital to the U.S. economy, yet they encounter dangerous working conditions. Thousands of offshore workers suffer injuries or death each year.
The job-related fatality rate is seven times higher for maritime workers than for the average U.S. worker.
Because of the danger present in a maritime work environment, offshore workers receive protection under a federal law called The Jones Act.
This Act has protected U.S. maritime workers for the past century, allowing them to sue an employer for full compensation when they are negligently injured on the job.
If you have been injured while working offshore, you may be able to file a Jones Act lawsuit.
Our experienced maritime lawyers at The Johns Law Firm help injured workers throughout New Orleans and other areas in the Gulf South get Jones Act lawsuit settlements.
Contact us for a free consultation, or read on for more information on The Jones Act.
What Is the Jones Act?
The Jones Act, part of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, was enacted to protect the Merchant Marine and give legal rights to seamen.
Before the passage of the Jones Act, seamen faced difficulty obtaining medical care and financial support when they were injured on the job.
When Congress determined that seamen labored in dangerous occupations that were critical to the American economy, it passed the Jones Act.
Who Does the Jones Act Protect?
The Jones Act protects many seamen and offshore workers who are injured on the job.
To qualify as a seaman under the Jones Act, maritime workers must:
- Spend 30% or more of their work hours “in the service of a vessel on navigable waters” and
- Substantially contribute to the mission of the vessel.
The vessel must be floating, in operation, moveable, and on navigable waters. A waterway is considered navigable if it can be used for interstate or foreign commerce.
To contribute to the mission of the vessel, a seaman simply needs to do the ship’s work. Thus, non-traditional maritime workers such as entertainers, bartenders, and hairdressers can be considered a Jones Act seaman.
Maritime Workers Protected by the Jones Act
Examples of maritime workers protected by the Jones Act include:
- Ship crewmasters,
- Ship crewmembers,
- Fishers aboard fishing boats,
- Fish processors aboard fishing boats, and
- Offshore workers on mobile oil rigs like jack-up rigs.
Most employees aboard ships, fishing boats, barges, tugs, and dredges are considered Jones Act seamen.
Maritime Workers Not Protected by the Jones Act
Examples of maritime workers not protected by the Jones Act include:
- Harbor workers,
- Ship guests, and
- Persons temporarily aboard a vessel.
Because these people do not have a permanent connection to a vessel, they are not usually given protection under the Jones Act. If you can’t determine whether you qualify as a seaman under this law, Jones Act lawyers can evaluate your position.
What Can a Seaman Recover Under the Jones Act?
Under the Jones Act, a seaman can sue an employer for work-related injuries caused by the employer’s negligence or the ship’s unseaworthiness. This ability to file a personal injury lawsuit for negligence greatly extends a seaman’s ordinary protection under maritime common law.
Jones Act vs. Maintenance and Cure
Under maritime common law, employers usually owe seamen who are injured on the job “maintenance and cure.” Maintenance and cure mean living expenses and medical expenses up to the point of maximum medical recovery.
Employers must provide maintenance and cure payments only until the seaman can return to work or reaches the point where no further medical treatment will help recovery.
However, these payments often don’t cover a worker’s financial needs.
Jones Act settlement amounts are usually much higher than maintenance and cure payments. The Jones Act allows a worker to sue for full compensation for physical and emotional injuries caused by an employer’s negligence.
When you file a Jones Act personal injury lawsuit for negligence, you must prove four elements of your claim: (1) Duty of Care; (2) Breach of Duty; (3) Breach Caused Harm; and (4) Damages.
Duty of Care
The first step to proving negligence is establishing a legal duty your employer owed to you. For example, an employer owes a duty to keep deck surfaces that are safe for walking.
Some other duties that an employer may owe include:
- Supplying proper working tools and equipment to employees;
- Properly training employees;
- Having proper supervision to complete jobs;
- Assigning enough employees to the job;
- Halting operations when there are problems with the weather;
- Complying with relevant safety regulations;
- Implementing procedures to avoid accidents.
Breach of Duty
Next, you must prove that your employer breached the duty.
For example, your employer allowed a grease spill to endanger workers on the deck and failed to take reasonable safety precautions to prevent workers from slipping in the grease spot.
Breach Caused Harm
You need to prove you were harmed by your employer’s negligence. For example, you slipped on the grease spot that your employer did not have someone clean up and hit your head on a metal railing.
In Jones Act cases, courts apply what is called a featherweight standard of causation in which an employer is deemed to have caused the injury if the employer’s action or inaction had any role in causing the injury.
For example, if the grease spot was caused by an expected equipment malfunction, the employer may claim he cannot be responsible for your injuries because the malfunction was not reasonably expected to happen.
Under a featherweight standard, you can probably prove that your employer caused your harm if you show the employer did not properly train his employees to operate the equipment that caused the grease spill.
The purpose of the featherweight standard is to ensure that Jones Act seamen have an expansive remedy to cover damages in the event they are injured on the job.
Courts have stated that employers owe a high duty of care to their seaman employees because they work in a dangerous environment and lack the protection of a government-administered workers’ compensation scheme that is meant to provide guaranteed benefits in the event an employee is injured.
Harm Resulted in Damages
Finally, you need to prove that your harm resulted in damages. For example, you sustained a concussion after you hit your head on the railing after slipping on grease.
You now require extensive medical treatment and are unable to work.
Once you prove the elements of negligence, you can sue for the damages caused by your injury.
Damages include things like lost wages, medical bills, and pain and suffering caused by your injury. Jones Act plaintiffs can file in state or federal court and may opt for a jury trial.
Jones Act protections also extend to a seaman killed due to an employer’s negligence. In that case, the personal representative (executor) of the deceased seaman’s estate sues on behalf of family members for the seaman’s wrongful death.
How Can a Jones Act Attorney Help?
If you think you have a personal injury claim covered by the Jones Act, you need an experienced maritime attorney.
A personal injury lawyer who handles land-based injury claims may not understand the complicated rules of maritime law. Hiring an experienced maritime attorney can help you recover the money you deserve.
A Jones Act lawyer will listen to your experience, explain the law to you, and evaluate your best legal strategy for your personal injury claim.
Then the maritime lawyer will investigate your injury experience, interview witnesses, gather evidence and prepare your legal case.
Your Jones Act attorney will usually try to negotiate a settlement with your employer’s insurance company.
However, if your employer’s insurance company is unwilling to reach a desirable settlement, your attorney should be prepared to take your case to trial.
At The Johns Law Firm, we represent offshore workers injured off the coasts of Texas, Louisiana, and other areas in the Gulf of Mexico.
Two of our attorneys, Jeremiah Johns and Mike Shlansky, hold an advanced master of law degrees in the field of maritime law.
Our Jones Act attorneys spent years representing employers and insurance companies, so we know what legal strategies work against them.
We offer a free consultation, where we can review your case, answer your questions, and let you know how we can help.
If you need experienced maritime attorneys to maximize your chance of injury compensation, contact us today to get started on your Jones Act claim.