The Jones Act is the Maritime and Admiralty counter-part to the Federal Employer’s Liability Act. The Jones Act states that “a seaman injured in the course of employment … may elect to bring a civil action at law, with the right of trial by jury, against the employer. Laws of the United States regulating recovery for personal injury to … a railway employee apply to an action under this section. “46 U.S.C. § 30104.
The Jones Act is to receive a liberal interpretation, which means that it is considered remedial legislation designed to provide a remedy to an injured seaman. Instead of having a worker’s compensation scheme available for recovery to a seaman, the Jones Act provides very liberal standards for recovery on behalf of a seaman injured. The standard of causation required to be proved by a seaman claiming damages under the Jones Act is very different than the common law negligence requirements of causation applicable in other types of cases. In a seaman’s case, the seaman may recover damages if he can prove that the negligence of his employer played any part, no matter how small, in contributing to his injuries. This is a very liberal standard of causation, which is very favorable to a seaman.
The Jones Act also provides for a right to a jury trial, although some employers have arbitration agreements as part of the employment contracts which require the seaman to litigate his Jones Act claims in arbitration proceedings. Whether the arbitration agreement in enforceable or not is an issue that will have to be considered by the Maritime legal expert handling the Jones Act claim.
The Jones Act also abolished the absolute defense of contributory negligence that was previously available under Maritime Law, which would prevent recovery if there was any contributory negligence on the part of a seaman. Under the Jones Act, comparative negligence is substituted for contributory negligence. Under comparative law, the employer of the seaman can still assert that the seaman was negligent also and contributed to his injuries, but instead of being an absolute bar to any recovery by the seaman, the total amount of damages will be reduced by the percentage of fault attributed to the seaman. This is referred to as comparative negligence.
Under General Admiralty or Maritime Law, which a Judge made law, a seaman may also recover maintenance (food and lodging/shelter) while he is recovering and cure (medical care and treatment), plus in some instances unearned wages until the end of the employment contract.
Also, under the General Maritime Law there is a claim by a seaman for unseaworthiness of the ship on which he was injured and suffered damages caused by the unseaworthiness. The claim for unseaworthiness can include unsafe methods and practices of work, having too few men assigned to a job, unsafe equipment, as well as many other deficiencies with the vessel or its parts which make the work environment unsafe.
The typical damages available to a seaman for his claims of Jones Act Negligence and Unseaworthiness include:
- Failure to provide a reasonably safe place to work by failing to adequately assess the risks associated with performing all of the job duties required of the Plaintiff;
- By failing to have an adequate number of personnel to perform all of the job activities that were required to be performed;
- Failing to provide the Plaintiff a safe place to work, by requiring the Plaintiff to work an excessive number of hours per day without adequate rest breaks and putting him at risk for spinal injury;
- Failure to provide a safe place to work by failing to provide prompt, proper and adequate medical care and treatment. Plaintiff’s complaints were not promptly diagnosed and treated, and instead the Plaintiff was returned to the type of work that caused the Plaintiff to develop back problems in the first place;
- Failure to provide a safe place to work by failing to provide prompt, proper and adequate medical care and treatment;
- Failure to provide a safe place to work by failing to properly supervise the work place;
- Failure to provide a safe place to work by failure to properly train the workers;
- Requiring Plaintiff to work beyond the Plaintiff’s physical capabilities;
- Failure to promptly diagnose Plaintiff’s condition;
- Failure to adopt and implement reasonably safe procedures for performing the duties that Plaintiff was assigned to;
- Failure to provide a reasonably safe place to work by failing to adequately evaluate the Plaintiff’s medical condition during the time the Plaintiff was employed by the Defendant, and failure to discover any physical injuries the Plaintiff suffered from which would have precluded the Plaintiff from performing the heavy work the Plaintiff was assigned;
- Failure to determine Plaintiff’s fitness to return to work;
- By failing to promptly and correctly diagnose the seriousness of the Plaintiff’s condition, and then failing to promptly and adequately treat the Plaintiff’s condition;
- Failure to conduct proper risk assessments;
- Failure to conduct an appropriate study of the work place from an ergonomic standpoint, so that the work place, and job duties, could be adjusted to fit the particular worker in such a manner as to not to put the Plaintiff at a high risk of suffering injury;
- Failure to provide a safe place to work by assigning the Plaintiff job duties that required the Plaintiff to engage in daily repetitive tasks of lifting heavy items, causing strain on the Plaintiff’s spinal ligaments which decreased the stability of the Plaintiff’s back, and requiring the Plaintiff to participate in activities that resulted in increased forces on the Plaintiff’s spinal canal, leading to risk of injuries, including herniated discs;
- Failure to provide a safe place to work by failing to implement appropriate safety precautions and procedures based on ergonomic studies reflecting the risk of injuries for the various types of job tasks and activities crewmembers were required to perform onboard the vessels;
- Failure to properly evaluate the different job tasks and activities required of the Plaintiff in order to implement appropriate safety precautions to avoid the type of injuries Plaintiff suffered as a result of excessive and physically taxing job tasks and activities;
- Failure to properly evaluate the different job tasks and activities required of the Plaintiff in order to implement appropriate safety precautions to avoid the type of injuries Plaintiff suffered as a result of the excessive and physical taxing job tasks and activities the Plaintiff was required to perform on Defendant’s vessel;
- Failure to provide a safe place to work by failing to have the ship’s doctors and supervisors communicate with each other about the physical capacities of the Plaintiff, the type of complaints the Plaintiff was expressing regarding the Plaintiff’s physical condition, and failing to properly evaluate the Plaintiff’s physical injuries and capabilities and then determine the appropriateness of the various job tasks and activities that would be required of the Plaintiff when the Plaintiff’s was returned to work;
- Failure to provide a safe place to work by assignment of the Plaintiff to job tasks and activities that posed unreasonable risks of injury to the Plaintiff based on the Plaintiff’s physical capacities;
- Failure to provide a safe place to work by returning the Plaintiff to work despite weakened physical condition.