If you work onboard a ship or other vessel that operates on the water, you might wonder if you are covered in the event you are injured at work. “Seamen” are considered a different class of worker from traditional employees and are covered by the Jones Act when they are injured.
The Jones Act is basically Workers’ Compensation for crew members that work and are injured onboard any vessel that operates on navigable waters. Because federal law governs most open waters, employees at sea are covered by the federal Jones Act as opposed to a state’s Workers’ Compensation laws. This is highly beneficial since injured crew members can usually recover compensation more easily under the Jones Act than a typical Workers’ Compensation claim.
Contact Rivkind Margulies & Rivkind, P.A. today at (305) 204-5369 for a free case assessment with our Jones Act attorneys.
What is the Jones Act?
If you work on the sea, you might have heard of the Jones Act but not know what its purpose is. The Jones Act was passed as part of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 and governs goods transported on water, but most importantly, it provides rights to those employed on ships to recover damages if they are injured while working. The Jones Act is a counterpart of the Federal Employer’s Liability Act and allows a “seaman” to file a lawsuit against their employer if they were injured on account of their negligence.
Essentially, the Jones Act is a federal version of Workers’ Compensation laws that most states have. This means that workers’ injuries are covered if they are injured at work. If most of their work takes place on a sea vessel, a worker will likely be covered by the Jones Act. This can be a great benefit as proving negligence under the Jones Act is typically easier than in a typical negligence lawsuit brought under state law. The Jones Act is very favorable to crewmembers, and our Jones Act attorneys can help you understand your rights if you have been injured at sea.
Who is Covered by the Jones Act?
The Jones Act is designed to provide rights to a very specific group of workers in the United States, “seamen.” This is an old term that is still used to describe any crewmember that works on a ship. To file a lawsuit under the Jones Act, you must qualify as a seaman. This can be anyone who works on a vessel that operates on navigable waters. This means you are covered even if you work in the kitchen, as a technician, or as a deckhand. As long as you are employed on a ship that travels on navigable waters, you should be covered.
The term “vessel” is applied loosely in the Jones Act. Most vessels will qualify under the Jones Act, regardless of whether they operate on a river, lake, or ocean. The law allows crewmembers to file suit if they spend more than 30% of their time working on a vessel and that vessel operates on navigable waters. However, your injuries do not have to occur on the ship. You are still covered if you are injured while off the vessel, like when stopped at a port of call.
Further, the Jones Act has specific portions that cover commercial and private passenger vessels. According to the Passenger Vessel Services Act, a portion of the Jones Act, workers on commercial crafts, namely cruise ships, are also covered under the Jones Act if they are injured. Keep in mind that the Jones Act only applies to workers on a vessel. Passengers injured at sea will usually need to file a lawsuit under the state laws where they were injured.
Will I Be Covered Under the Jones Act If I Contributed to Causing My Injuries?
Fortunately, you are covered by the Jones Act even if you partially caused your accident. Previously, contributory negligence was a total bar to recovery, meaning that an injured worker could not recover damages if they contributed to the accident at all. Today, the Jones Act follows a comparative negligence rule. Under this rule, an injured seaman can still recover damages if they contributed to causing their injuries, but their award will be reduced by the percentage they were found to have contributed to the accident.
What Compensation Can I Recover Under the Jones Act?
The compensation you can pursue in a Jones Act claim is much like the damages you could claim in a personal injury lawsuit, but use slightly different terminology. Instead of recovering “damages,” crew members can recover what is known as “maintenance and cure” as compensation for their injuries. However, compensation for maintenance and cure seeks to do what typical damages are intended to do, which is compensate an injured worker for their medical costs and lost income. If the accident was caused by truly outrageous conduct, you can also claim punitive damages.
Maintenance and Cure
Maintenance and cure are the terms the Jones Act uses to refer to the damages a seaman can recover in a Jones Act claim. “Cure” refers to the medical costs incurred by the injured worker. The Jones Act tends to be more liberal in terms of how a crew member’s “cure” should be compensated. Under the Jones Act, employers are required to cover an injured worker’s medical costs until they are fully healed, or “cured,” or until they reach “maximum medical improvement,” which is the point where more medical treatment will not help the injured seaman.
“Maintenance” refers to the day-to-day living expenses of a crew member. Under the Jones Act, employers are also liable to pay an injured worker’s maintenance until they are fit to return to duty. Thus, an injured worker can recover their lost wages in the form of maintenance to keep them on their feet until they fully recover.
Depending on the facts of your case, you might also be entitled to punitive damages. These damages are intended to punish a defendant and can greatly increase the compensation you are awarded. However, punitive damages are usually reserved for cases where the employer or ship owner acted egregiously. If you were the victim of grossly negligent conduct on the part of your employer, you might have a claim for punitive damages.
Punitive damages often come into play in a Jones Act case when an employer fails to cover an injured worker’s maintenance and cure after an accident. Employers are required to cover an injured crew member’s maintenance and cure regardless of who was at fault. If they illegally withhold the compensation, they can be punished by awarding punitive damages.
Our Jones Act Attorneys Can Help
For a free review of your case with our Jones Act lawyers, call Rivkind Margulies & Rivkind, P.A. at (305) 204-5369 today.