Those who work on or around maritime vessels often find their work rewarding, albeit dangerous. At times, the dangers of the job can lead to significant injuries which preclude you from work. When this happens, one often asks “what now?”
Fortunately, maritime workers are afforded rights and legal options after being injured on the job. As a general rule, there are two types of maritime workers: those who meet the legal definition of “seamen” and those who work on or near the water.
A seaman is a person who spends a significant amount of time on the vessel and who contributes to the work of the vessel as a member of a vessel’s crew or captain. It is the first part of this definition—“significant amount of time”—which is often litigated. As a guidepost, at least 30% of an employee’s total employment time must be spent on the vessel, or in the case of a company who owns multiple vessels, on the employer’s fleet of vessels to qualify as a “seaman”.
Unlike their non-maritime peers, seamen are not afforded workers’ compensation benefits under state or federal law. Instead, a seamen is able to pursue other remedies, including suing their employer under the Jones Act for the injuries sustained while at work. Additionally, a seamen is allowed to pursue damages against the owner of the vessel on which he was injured, as well as receive maintenance and cure.
The Jones Act, the federal law which allows a seaman to sue his employer, requires maritime employers to provide a seaman with a reasonably safe place to work and use ordinary care to maintain and keep the vessel on which the seaman works in a reasonably safe condition. Unlike most negligence cases, the legal burden an injured seaman must prove to recover under the Jones Act is much lower. That is, an injured seaman, under the Jones Act, must only demonstrate that the employer’s negligence played a part, no matter how small, in the seaman’s injuries.
Those who do not meet the definition of “seaman” however, are not entitled to recovery under the Jones Act. Instead, these other class of maritime workers must bring their claims for injuries under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. This federal statute covers those employees who work on or near the water, but who do not meet the definition of “seaman”. Recovery under the Longshore Act is more akin to workers’ compensation, but at a slightly higher rate.
Whether it is under the Jones Act or the Longshore Act, as a maritime worker, it is important to fully understand your rights and the remedies available to you if you were injured on the job. Please do not attempt to determine if you have a compensable case. You must consult a relevant liability attorney who has the expertise and extensive knowledge necessary to determine who ultimately caused the harm and injuries you or a loved one suffered. Contact us for a free case evaluation here.