Basics of Offshore Injury Cases Under the Jones Act

By Armstrong & Lee LLP

July 2, 2018

What is the Jones Act?

Congress enacted the Merchant Marine Act, better known as the Jones Act, in 1920. The Act gives a right of personal injury recovery for any illness or injury that a seaman suffers as a result of their employer’s negligence, so long as it occurs in the scope of their employment.  Because seamen are not entitled to the same workers’ compensation benefits that land-based workers are, the Jones Act provides comparable compensation and more.

A maritime employer is liable to their employees under the Jones Act for the negligence of any of its other employees, for not providing a safe work environment, and for improper orders which cause an accident.

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Who Qualifies as a Seaman?

Generally, a seaman is any person who goes offshore as a member of a ship’s crew whose work aboard the ship contributes to the ship’s objectives.  Generally, seamen must spend at least 30% of their working time on a ship to qualify under the Jones Act.  Maritime workers who acquire seaman status do not lose that status just because they may be working onshore.  Seamen are covered under the Jones Act whenever and wherever they are injured including on shore as long as the injury occurred while the seaman was in the service of their vessel and acting in the scope of their employment.

When can a Seaman File Suit Under the Jones Act?

Seamen are obligated under the Jones Act to act with ordinary carefulness under the circumstances while performing their job. When a seaman is injured during his employment, the Jones Act allows the seaman to sue his employer for negligence.  Seamen can bring personal injury claims for industrial accidents, perils of the sea, as well as assaults by officers or other crew members.  For a seaman to succeed on a Jones Act claim against his employer, he must prove that the employer’s negligence caused his injuries.  However, the seaman only needs to show the slightest evidence that negligence played some part in causing his injuries – even if the seaman is partly at fault for his injuries.  As long as there is some employer negligence, he can bring a Jones Act claim.

Phil Carter, Shell

An Employer’s Requirements Under the Jones Act

Under the Jones Act, a maritime employer is required to use reasonable care in providing seamen with a reasonably safe place to work.  Some common unsafe working conditions include slippery substances on the decks; faulty, broken or improper equipment; inappropriate training of the seaman, captain, or the crew; unsafe work methods; improper orders or supervision; negligence of the seaman’s co-workers; and assaults by a co-worker.

Some Final Thoughts

Seamen can choose to file a Jones Act lawsuit in either state or federal court, but the Jones Act claim must be filed within three years of the date of the injury. In a successful Jones Act case, a seamen may be awarded damages including past and future pain and suffering, medical expenses, and mental anguish, as well as compensation for any lost earnings and lost earning capacity. However, if a seaman dies from an injury sustained on the job, lost earning capacity isn’t available under the Jones Act because damages are limited to only losses suffered during the seaman’s lifetime.

Cases and claims involving offshore injuries can implicate complex issues of state and federal law. It is important to consult an attorney who is experienced with offshore injury cases. The lawyers at Armstrong & Lee LLP are knowledgeable of, and experienced with, the intricacies of the Jones Act and maritime law. Call 832-709-1124 today for a free consultation regarding your offshore injury claim.

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