If you are a maritime worker and you spend a significant portion of your work time as a captain or crew-member of a vessel in navigation, you are considered a seaman. As a seaman, you are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits under the Jones Act if you are injured through no fault of your own on the job.
In other industries and for other types of work, employees are covered under state and/or federal workers’ compensation laws. Seaman, on the other hand, are not covered by these laws but are covered by three types of compensation under federal law. If you are an injured seaman, these are your options:
- Under the federal maritime doctrine of unseaworthiness, you may sue the owner of the ship or other vessel upon which you were injured.
- Under the Jones Act, you may sue your employer for negligence.
- Regardless of fault in the accident, you are entitled to receive “maintenance and cure”.
In any case, before you pursue compensation and/or benefits, you should first discuss your case with qualified maritime attorneys. They will help you better understand your options and which path you should take to gain compensation for your medical bills, any lost wages, pain and suffering, and any other necessary compensation.
Before you call upon maritime attorneys, it may be helpful, though, to understand a bit more about the ways in which the federal government protects seamen in case of accidents.
The Federal Maritime Doctrine of Unseaworthiness
The owner of the vessel on which you work is responsible for keeping it maintained and repaired such that it provides a safe place for seamen and other maritime workers to carry out their work. If a vessel does not afford maritime workers this safe environment, then, though it may be able to sail and function, it is not considered seaworthy.
In this case, even if the owner acted responsibly in the case of an accident, they will still be held responsible for the ownership of an unseaworthy vessel. Negligence does not have to be shown if unseaworthiness can be proven.
The Jones Act and Negligence
Under the Jones Act, employers must provide seamen with reasonable safety in which to work, and they must maintain reasonably safe conditions on the vessel at all times. Because maritime workers, and especially seamen, have such high-risk jobs, the Jones Act is designed to protect their safety as much as possible. For this reason, in contrast to other negligence lawsuits, the burden of proof is much lower in Jones Act cases.
Rather than proving that negligence was the leading cause of the accident, under the Jones Act, seamen must only prove that an employer’s negligence played a role in the accident at all. In such a case, maritime attorneys can be of great aid in proving your case and helping you achieve the compensation you deserve.
Maintenance and Cure
Even if you cannot prove any negligence on the part of your employer or the owner of the craft, you may still receive some form of compensation. Maintenance and cure dates far back in the history of maritime law, and it requires that the injured seaman’s maintenance (room and board) and cure (medical expenses) be taken care of by the employer during recovery from an accident on the job.
Your employer must, at the very least, pay your maintenance and cure until the point at which you reach maximum medical improvement after the accident. If they refuse to pay this or if the coverage they offer you is not enough to maintain your living expenses and medical bills, talk with maritime attorneys today about your case and your options.