Compensation For Jones Act Cases

The sea can be a very dangerous place to work. Ships, barges, rigs, and other sea-faring vessels share a high risk of causing on the job injuries. Even though rights to medical care for seaman have been around for centuries through Admiralty Law and Maritime Law, remedies against employers due to injured seaman have been inconsistent and variable. The Jones Act, specifically the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, was created to formalize the rights of seaman and provide workers with an opportunity to obtain damages if their employer is at fault.
Most employed workers today (by land) are given specific rights to remedy through workers compensation, providing an economic safety net for employees. Workers compensation typically provides for payments in place of wage, compensation for economic loss (past and future), and reimbursement for medical expenses. These benefits are available even if the worker is 100% at fault, but if the employer is at fault or negligent, damages are typically not available.
Maritime Law allows injured sailors to obtain damages from their employers for maintenance (basic living expenses) and cure (reasonable and necessary medical care). However, many times maintenance and cure does not provide for sufficient medical coverage. Maintenance can be as low as $8.00 a day, and cure is largely up to the employers standards of care. In addition, while the obligation to cure is ongoing, a seaman can lose his right to maintenance once he is able to work again. Compensation to cure in maritime law provides for “maximum medical cure” as opposed to “maximum medical improvement”. The former is more extensive and applies to the rights of seaman. “Maximum medical improvement” causes discontinuation of treatment once a condition can no longer be improved, or when treatment options are exhausted. “Maximum medical cure” includes an obligation to provide the injured seaman with medications and devices that improve the ability to function.
Under the Jones Act, workers may not have the assurances that are available in workers compensation, but they are entitled to general damages and punitive damages if they prove the injury was caused by a wrongdoing. Even if the injured seaman understood the danger inherent in the work at hand, and was informed of the risks involved, an employer can be liable for a breach of duty that contributes to the injury. In such a case, a seaman has the right to sue the employer if they feel that they were a victim of negligence on the part of the captain or crew, failure by the employer to provide adequate medical care, or if they feel the vessel was “unseaworthy”. “Unseaworthiness” can be easier to prove than negligence, where the employer must have had prior knowledge of the condition before the injury. If successful in a claim, an injured worker can recover compensation from pain and suffering, physical impairments, future or past earning capacity, and many other types of damages. In order to be qualified as a seaman, the injured party must be permanently assigned to his or her vessel and spend at least 30 percent of their time in service.
Personal injury cases under the Jones Act are handled through a trial by jury, and apply the legal doctrine of “comparative negligence”, whereby the jury determines what the damages are, and how much is allocated to each party. This is important because even if the injured party is found more than 50% negligent, they are still awarded that portion of monetary damages.
The sea can be a very dangerous place to work. Ships, barges, rigs, and other sea-faring vessels share a high risk of causing on the job injuries. Even though rights to medical care for seaman have been around for centuries through Admiralty Law and Maritime Law, remedies against employers due to injured seaman have been inconsistent and variable. The Jones Act, specifically the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, was created to formalize the rights of seaman and provide workers with an opportunity to obtain damages if their employer is at fault.
Most employed workers today (by land) are given specific rights to remedy through workers compensation, providing an economic safety net for employees. Workers compensation typically provides for payments in place of wage, compensation for economic loss (past and future), and reimbursement for medical expenses. These benefits are available even if the worker is 100% at fault, but if the employer is at fault or negligent, damages are typically not available.
Maritime Law allows injured sailors to obtain damages from their employers for maintenance (basic living expenses) and cure (reasonable and necessary medical care). However, many times maintenance and cure does not provide for sufficient medical coverage. Maintenance can be as low as $8.00 a day, and cure is largely up to the employers standards of care. In addition, while the obligation to cure is ongoing, a seaman can lose his right to maintenance once he is able to work again. Compensation to cure in maritime law provides for “maximum medical cure” as opposed to “maximum medical improvement”. The former is more extensive and applies to the rights of seaman. “Maximum medical improvement” causes discontinuation of treatment once a condition can no longer be improved, or when treatment options are exhausted. “Maximum medical cure” includes an obligation to provide the injured seaman with medications and devices that improve the ability to function.
Under the Jones Act, workers may not have the assurances that are available in workers compensation, but they are entitled to general damages and punitive damages if they prove the injury was caused by a wrongdoing. Even if the injured seaman understood the danger inherent in the work at hand, and was informed of the risks involved, an employer can be liable for a breach of duty that contributes to the injury. In such a case, a seaman has the right to sue the employer if they feel that they were a victim of negligence on the part of the captain or crew, failure by the employer to provide adequate medical care, or if they feel the vessel was “unseaworthy”. “Unseaworthiness” can be easier to prove than negligence, where the employer must have had prior knowledge of the condition before the injury. If successful in a claim, an injured worker can recover compensation from pain and suffering, physical impairments, future or past earning capacity, and many other types of damages. In order to be qualified as a seaman, the injured party must be permanently assigned to his or her vessel and spend at least 30 percent of their time in service.
Personal injury cases under the Jones Actare handled through a trial by jury, and apply the legal doctrine of “comparative negligence”, whereby the jury determines what the damages are, and how much is allocated to each party. This is important because even if the injured party is found more than 50% negligent, they are still awarded that portion of monetary damages.

Brian Beckcom is a Jones act and Maritime attorney in Houston specializing in Maritime Law and other personal injury cases. For more information please visit his website at http://www.maritimeaccidentattorney.com/

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