What Do Injured Seamen Need to Prove to Obtain Jones Act Compensation?

Attorney Frank Lamothe by Frank E. Lamothe, III

For most workers in non-maritime industries, receiving compensation from their employers for on-the-job injuries means applying for and receiving workers’ compensation benefits. This is a “no fault” benefit, meaning the employee gets the care regardless of whether he/she or the employer caused the injury. The trade-off is that the injured worker cannot sue the employer for negligence.

For seamen who suffer an offshore injury while working on a vessel, things are different. Under the Jones Act, which governs maritime injury claims by seamen against their employers, a worker can sue his/her employer for negligence. These general damages are recoverable only if the seaman can prove the employer’s negligence caused or contributed to the injury.

Separate and apart from a negligence claim, a vessel crew member injured while in service to the vessel is automatically entitled to “maintenance and cure” (a daily payment and full medical care) regardless of who caused the injury.

What is the “Jones Act”?

The Jones Act is a federal law that governs the liability of vessel operators and marine employers for damages arising from an on-the-job injury or death of a seaman they employ. This federal law cause of action applies to all claims by American seamen for on-the-job injuries, regardless of the vessel’s location when they were injured. The injured worker must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that:

• He or she was a seaman as defined in the Jones Act;

• The employer was negligent; and

• The employer’s negligence was a cause (not the cause) of the injuries or losses.

Who is a “Seaman” under the Jones Act?

The first element of a Jones Act claim is proving that the Jones Act applies, which means showing that the plaintiff was a “seaman” as defined in that law. “Seamen” whose injury claims are governed by the Jones Act include:

• “Brown water” or inland river workers such as tug and towboat crewmen;

• Offshore workers aboard “jack-up” rigs, semi-submersibles, barges, motorized platforms, crew boats, supply boats, dredges, and floating cranes; and

• “Blue water” crewmen aboard drill ships, tankers, cargo ships, fishing vessels, chemical ships, research vessels, diving vessels, cruise ships, recreational boats, or other floating or movable structures.

Employer’s Negligence.

The second element of a Jones Act claim is employer negligence. A seaman can only recover damages from his or her employer for a work injury if he or she can prove some negligence or fault on the part of the vessel’s owners, operators, officers, fellow employees, or the employer’s agents. This means that the employer must have done something careless or unreasonable, or failed to use reasonable care to prevent conditions or circumstances that could lead to an injury.

Employer’s Negligence as a Cause of the Injury.

The third element of a Jones Act negligence claim is proving that the employer’s acts or omissions were a cause of the injury. The employer’s conduct does not have to be the sole cause of the injury or even the primary reason for the accident. If negligence by the employer played any role in causing the accident, no matter how slight, the employer can be found liable for the seaman’s losses.

Unseaworthiness Claims: No Negligence Needed.

It is important to note that an injury claim may also be based on the condition of a vessel rather than on an employer’s negligence. If a vessel is “unseaworthy”, the injured seaman does not need to prove that his or her employer was negligent in order to recover compensation.

For an unseaworthiness claim, the injured seaman only needs to prove that the vessel or its equipment had a deficiency or defect that caused his or her injury. This could include poorly maintained equipment, an inadequate crew, lack of safety features, lack of handrails, or lack of proper safety procedures or training.

An injured seaman can bring an unseaworthiness claim in conjunction with a Jones Act negligence claim.

The Lamothe Law Firm: Protecting Offshore Workers and Their Families.

If you are a seaman who suffered an offshore injury, or if you lost a loved one in an offshore accident, you may have a claim for significant compensation that can help you recover and move forward with your life. The offshore injury attorneys at Lamothe Law Firm have extensive experience and a long track record of success in these cases. We welcome the opportunity to help you and your family.

Please call Lamothe Law firm today at 504-321-7747 to consult with a qualified personal injury attorney about your case and get the full compensation you deserve.

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