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Working on a vessel, such as an oil or cargo vessel, can be a rewarding experience, but it is also filled with risks. But despite these risks, workers’ compensation laws fail to protect injured seamen, leaving them with less protection than their land-based counterparts have. 

The Jones Act is an important law that can protect an injured seaman. Read further to learn what role the Jones Act plays in maritime accidents.

What is the Jones Act?

The Jones Act is a federal law that protects maritime workers injured on the job. Maritime workers are generally not covered by the state’s workers’ compensation system. However, the Jones Act allows injured seamen to bring a claim or, if necessary, to file a lawsuit against their employer or the ship’s owner to recover benefits and compensation after being injured in a maritime accident. 

Under the Jones Act, an injured maritime worker may be entitled to three fundamental rights: 

  1. The right to maintenance and cure; 
  2. The right to bring a lawsuit against their employer if their employer’s negligence caused their injury; and
  3. The right to bring a lawsuit against the ship’s owner for unseaworthiness if a hazardous condition on the ship caused their injury.

Who is a Seaman Under the Jones Act?

An injured worker must be considered a seaman to qualify for coverage under the Jones Act. However, since the Jones Act does not explicitly define what a seaman is for recovery purposes, it can be hard to determine a maritime worker’s status. 

Generally, to qualify as a seaman under the Jones Act, a worker must be assigned to a vessel or fleet and spend at least 30% of their working hours on that vessel operating in navigable waters. This includes deckhands, crew members, engineers, captains, roughnecks, roustabouts, and anyone who spends a significant amount of working time onboard a vessel contributing to its operation or mission.

What is a Vessel Under the Jones Act?

Under the Jones Act, just about anything that floats and can move can be considered a vessel. This means it must not be permanently affixed to the ocean floor or other navigable waterway. 

As such, the term vessel covers a wide variety of watercraft used for transportation, tourism, fishing, and shipping. Examples include:

  • Cruise ships
  • Ferries
  • Cargo ships
  • Tugboats
  • Barges
  • Offshore oil rigs
  • Commercial fishing boats
  • Docked boats
  • Semi-submersibles
  • Other watercrafts that operate on the ocean

What is an Employer’s or Shipowner’s Duty of Care Under the Jones Act?

A maritime employer or shipowner has an obligation to ensure that their ship or other navigable vessel is safe, secure, and seaworthy. Typically, this means that: 

  • The vessel must be in a condition that could withstand any foreseeable weather hazards.
  • All onboard equipment must be in good working order.
  • The crew must be sufficiently trained to maintain the ship properly.
  • The vessel’s condition must allow it to perform its intended function adequately. 
  • Acceptable safety procedures must be in place.

If a maritime worker suffers an injury due to a breach of duty on the part of their employer or the ship’s owner, he/she may be eligible to recover full damages under the Jones Act for negligence or unseaworthiness.

Maintenance and Cure

Under the Jones Act, an injured maritime worker is entitled to maintenance and cure. Maintenance refers to compensation for living expenses, such as rent or mortgage, homeowner’s insurance, property taxes, food, and utilities.

Cure refers to payments for reasonable and necessary medical expenses needed to treat the injury. This also includes the cost of transportation to and from medical appointments and other expenses related to treating the worker’s injury or illness. 

Maintenance and cure are the only rights listed above that an injured maritime worker is entitled to regardless of fault. In other words, to recover maintenance and cure, the injured worker must only demonstrate that the injury or illness arose during employment. They do not have to prove that the employer or the ship’s owner is at fault for their injury.

Filing a Lawsuit Under the Jones Act

In addition to maintenance and cure, the Jones Act allows workers injured during their employment to sue their employer or the ship’s owner for additional damages. This is important because maintenance and cure may not be enough to cover all the injured worker’s damages.

An injured worker is only entitled to maintenance until the end of the voyage, and cure is only provided until the worker’s condition reaches maximum medical improvement (MMI) or until it stabilizes. This is an important issue when a worker has sustained a serious injury that results in a chronic or permanent condition such as paralysis. Once their condition stabilizes, they may be left to pay for any additional care they need from their own pockets.

If an injured maritime worker and their Baton Rouge maritime lawyer can prove negligence or unseaworthiness on the part of their employer or the ship’s owner, they may be able to recover additional damages, including:

  • Lost wages and income
  • Loss of future earning capacity
  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Pain and suffering 
  • Permanent impairment
  • Scarring and disfigurement
  • Emotional distress

How an Experienced Maritime Lawyer Can Help

After being seriously injured in a maritime accident, an injured worker often feels angry, frustrated, and vulnerable at the hands of employers, who may have ignored warnings, disregarded safety lapses, and made mistakes that put the worker in harm’s way. This is where a maritime lawyer in Baton Rouge can help.

Maritime employers and their insurance companies will do whatever is needed to protect themselves when a worker sustains a serious injury. Whenever an injured worker is not represented by an experienced personal injury lawyer, the employer and the liable insurance carrier have the upper hand. Not only is the worker at a huge disadvantage, but he/she is also injured and dealing with a great deal of pain and suffering.

A skilled maritime attorney from Dudley DeBosier can investigate the case, ensure that the injured seaman is treated fairly by the employer and insurance carrier, and help them recover the benefits and compensation they are entitled to receive.

Contact a Dudley DeBosier Maritime Lawyer in Baton Rouge

At Dudley DeBosier, we know what kind of help an injured worker needs because we have dedicated our practice to helping accident victims obtain the compensation they deserve. By hiring one of our maritime lawyers, Baton Rouge seamen gain the help of an experienced professional who will explain their legal options, advise them on what they should do, and walk them through the process from beginning to end.

At our law firm, every prospective client gets a free case assessment, and we do not charge a fee unless we win. Contact us today to arrange a consultation. We love to help people protect their future and get what they deserve.

This content has been reviewed by the Baton Rouge Dudley DeBosier office. 

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