Understanding Negligence Claims & How A Jones Act Lawyer Can Help
A seaman is different from a land-based employee due to the different working conditions surrounding those that work on ships and other vessels. As such, the law envisions a distinct form of protection to the seaman that will cover any harm or injury to the maritime workers who are exposed to “the perils of the sea.”
One of the critical pieces of legislation that ensures this occurs is a federal law known as the Jones Act, which provides seamen with the right to sue their employer for negligence if they are injured while in the service of a vessel in navigable waters.
What Should I Do After A Maritime Accident?
If you experience an injury on the job, it can be challenging to know what to do next. Try to remain calm and take the following steps to document your claim:
If you have been injured, stop working, report your accident and seek medical attention right away. You will likely be seen by the medic or other medical professional on the vessel, after which you may be sent to see a company doctor onshore. However, note that maritime law provides that the injured worker may choose their medical providers. This means that you are not required to make the company doctor your doctor. Keep copies of all receipts and medical records from your treating health care professionals.
Report your injury right away. Ensure that your supervisor or somebody else with your company completes an accident report to document what happened. If possible, obtain a copy of the report and any other documents that may provide details surrounding your maritime accident.
Documenting the incident and injuries is essential. Take photographs or videos of the accident scene and any other conditions on the vessel that may have contributed to your injury. Collect contact information for all potential witnesses. If you are no longer on the vessel, it may be hard to locate them later.
Maintain a journal or personal log of the injury, your medical treatment, and your recovery. Over time, it may become difficult to remember these details.
Though you may be asked to give an oral or written statement. Do not sign anything releasing any rights that you may have until you have consulted with a Jones Act attorney.
Take advice from trusted professionals. After an accident, everyone you know tends to give you unsolicited advice about how to proceed. It is best to take medical advice from your doctor and legal advice from an experienced maritime lawyer.
That said, here are several things that you should understand and how a Jones Act lawyer can help:
9 Things to Know about Jones Act Claims
What is the Jones Act?
The general maritime law did not allow seamen to pursue negligence claims against their employers. Correcting this problem, the Jones Act made the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA), which gave railroad workers a cause of action against their employers, applicable to seamen.
Under the act, injured seamen have claims against their employers for negligence (including for maritime injuries caused by the negligence of a co-employee).
How Long Do I Have to Bring a Jones Act Claim?
Generally speaking, injured seamen have three years to bring Jones Act claims. However, if an employer misleads an injured seaman to keep him from filing suit, the employer may not be able to claim that the seaman waited too long to sue.
Where Can I File My Claim?
An injured seaman can bring a Jones Act claim in state or federal court. But, if the claim is filed in state court, the defendant cannot remove it to federal court under what is called the ‘Savings to Suitors” clause.
Can I Get a Jury Trial for My Jones Act Claim?
Yes. You can get a jury trial for your Jones Act claim. However, if you choose to have your case tried by a jury rather than a judge, you will not be able to receive an award of pre-judgment interest for your damages (which may be awarded in a judge trial).
Who Can Bring a Jones Act Claim?
The following are the three main criteria that you should meet:
- You must meet the definition of a “seaman”
- You must have sustained an injury or developed the illness in the course of your employment
- The injury suffered must be caused, in whole or in part, by the employer or employee’s negligence.
Who Qualifies as a Seaman?
As noted earlier, the Jones Act aims at protecting Seamen. However, the definition of a “seaman” is critical to any injury claim brought under the Act.
There are essentially three requirements to qualifying as a seaman for purposes of Jones Act protection:
- You must be assigned to a vessel or fleet of vessels
- That vessel or fleet of vessels must be in navigation
- You must contribute to the function of the vessel or the accomplishment of its mission
- Your connection to the vessel or fleet of vessels must be substantial in terms of duration and nature
To counter this, courts often take an approach to narrowing the interpretation of the definition. They proceed by establishing whether the person contributes substantially to the ship’s functions. Also, they will seek to find out whether the duration and the nature of your work on the ship contribute to the vessel’s objectives and missions.
Put briefly, many injured maritime workers will not be able to file claims under the Jones Act since they don’t fall under the Acts and the courts’ definition of a “seaman”.
Under maritime law, a seaman has an employment connection with a ship or fleet of ships. They must spend a substantial portion of their time (ex. 30% of their working time) at assigned tasks or tasks that contribute to the ship’s functions. Therefore, the Jones Act applies to seamen who work on a variety of vessels, including:
- Cargo ships
- Floating cranes
- Semi-submersible ships
- Fishing vessels
- Cruise ships
- Recreational vessels
For more information, don’t hesitate to contact The Mahone Firm for a free no-obligation consultation today.
What is Jones Act Negligence?
Being worker-friendly legislation, the Jones Act places a duty of care on the employer or vessel owner to protect the seaman. In other words, it requires the employer to provide safe working conditions and have well-trained crewmembers so that the seaman can work in a safe condition.
If any injury arises due to the employer’s negligence, the seaman can initiate a claim under the Jones Act for compensation. Some of the hazardous conditions in a vessel that may make an employer liable include:
- Breakage of equipment
- Unsafe work methods
- Improper training of the crew
- Grease or oil on the deck
Also, it is imperative to note that the act recognizes injury that occurs due to another employee’s negligence. Such an incident doesn’t preclude you from recovering compensation under the Jones Act.
This means that, unlike most other maritime injury cases, you can sue your employer for the negligence of one of your coworkers rather than being stuck with a workers’ compensation claim.
The causation standard is said to be “featherweight,” requiring only that your employer’s negligence caused your injury at least “in part.” This is different from other negligence contexts that require a higher showing of causation to recover.
What Damages Can I Recover?
A successful civil lawsuit often leads to compensation. The Jones Act then provides different types of damages to an injured seaman after successfully proving their claim. Such compensation includes:
- Past and future medical expenses (which can often be significant for injuries requiring surgeries)
- Past and future loss of wages
- General damages for things such as pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and mental anguish
One category of damages that cannot be recovered is loss of consortium/loss of love and affection. Oftentimes, an injured person’s spouse or minor children can bring claims for loss of consortium or loss of love and affection.
These damages compensate the immediate family for the way that the injury to the victim has, in turn, injured them. These damages are not available for injuries to Jones Act seamen, though. So, while it is generally broader than other laws, this is one area where injury claims involving seamen are limited.
Can I Still Bring a Claim If I’m Partially at Fault?
Yes. However, your recovery in your case will be reduced by your percentage of fault. In other words, if you’re awarded $100,000 and are found to be 25% at fault, you will only be able to recover $75,000.
Contact a New Orleans Jones Act Lawyer Today
If injured while working offshore on a ship or vessel, the Jones Act entitles you to damages. The Mahone Firm is here to help you through this challenging period.
Our maritime law practice is focused on maintaining a personalized attorney-client relationship. This means that you won’t have to go through or speak with a paralegal or a legal assistant. If clients, for instance, want to provide new or useful information about their ongoing case, they can contact Mike Mahone directly.
Our established law office concentrates primarily on two practice areas: Personal Injury (including Offshore & Maritime industry injuries) and Commercial Litigation. Mike Mahone, a personal injury lawyer and business litigation attorney is this law firm’s sole practitioner.
Contact us today for a free and confidential consultation with a New Orleans Jones Act attorney.