Filing a Maritime Injury Claim: What You Need to Know
The law of the land doesn't necessarily apply to the law of the sea. For maritime workers, these discrepancies can make it challenging to file a personal injury claim when hurt on the job. Hiring a good maritime lawyer and having a basic understanding of maritime laws can help make the process run smoothly.
Types of Maritime Workers and Their Protection
There are two main types of maritime workers: seamen and all other employees who work on or near the water.
A seaman is someone who spends most of his or her time working as a captain or a crew member aboard a boat. The vessel must be "in navigation" for workers to be considered seamen.
Seamen are typically covered under the Jones Act, while employees who work on or near the water and are not seamen are covered under the Longshore Act.
The Jones Act and Compensation for Injured Seamen
Injured seamen are not entitled to worker's compensation under either federal or state law. There are three types of compensation or damages available to injured seamen under federal law.
Injured seamen are entitled to sue their employers for negligence under the Jones Act. Seamen are also entitled to sue the owner of the vessel where the injury took place if it is considered unseaworthy. Seamen are also entitled to maintenance and cure regardless of who was at fault for the injury.
The Jones Act
If a maritime employer is negligent in any way, an injured seaman may be eligible for compensation under the Jones Act.
The Jones Act specifies that:
- Employers must provide a reasonably safe place to work
- Maintain and keep the vessel in which the seaman works in reasonably safe condition
The requirements under the Jones Act are exceptionally stringent. Virtually any unsafe condition can cause a maritime employer to be held liable under the Jones Act.
Unlike other negligence cases, the Jones Act requires an unusually low burden of proof on part of the injured seaman. In conventional cases, the injured party must prove the defendant's negligence was the primary cause of the injury.
But under the Jones Act, the injured seaman only needs to prove that the employer's negligence played a role (no matter how big or small) in the injury.
Injured maritime workers may also be eligible for compensation if the vessel is defined as unseaworthy.
A seaworthy vessel, by law, is a ship whose crew, equipment and hull are reasonably adequate in:
A vessel may still be considered unseaworthy even if it can sail or navigate the water. Unseaworthy simply means that the seaman was not provided with safe, suitable tools or a safe work environment.
If a vessel is deemed unseaworthy, the owner will be held liable for injuries even if he or she acted reasonably.
Maintenance and Cure
Under maritime law, a maritime employer is obligated to provide injured seamen with care regardless of who was at fault for the injury.
Maintenance refers to room and board while the injured seaman is recovering from the injury. It includes the injured employees: mortgage or rent, property taxes, utilities, food and homeowner's insurance.
Cure refers to the seaman's medical bills.
A maritime employer must provide the injured seaman with maintenance and cure until the employees reach maximum medical improvement.
The Longshore Act
Employees who work on or near the water and are not considered seamen are covered under the Longshore Act. These employees include harbor workers, longshoremen, those working the docks, or in the terminals or shipyards.
The Longshore Act is essentially a workers' compensation act, but provides employees with more compensation than a typical state workers' compensation act.
Legal recourse is available to those who are injured at sea, but due to the complexity of these laws, injured workers are encouraged to work with a lawyer who specializes in maritime injuries.