Are you or a loved one the victim of a maritime accident? While most Jones Act claims settle before formal trial, the process can take up to several years to resolve.
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Jones Act Claim Overview
The Jones Act, also referred to as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, was established to protect workers at sea. Seamen are not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits (unlike land-based workers), which is why the Jones Act is crucial for their protection. This act and general maritime law allows seamen to sue their employer for negligence. It is important to note, however, that this act is very particular about who qualifies as a seaman. To qualify for a Jones Act lawsuit, you must work as at least a part-time seaman (a worker who spends at least 30% of work time on a vessel).
Read this blog to learn more about a Jones Act Lawsuit and potential settlement.
Jones Act Lawsuits And Burden of Causation
Unlike standard negligence cases, Jones Act lawsuits only need to show that an employers negligence played some (even minor) role in the incident. This is in stark contrast to standard negligence in which partial plaintiff negligence can have an effect on the case.
Examples of hazardous maritime work conditions include:
- Slippery deck – generally caused by grease or oil on the deck, slip and falls often result in brain and/ or spinal injury or broken bones.
- Ill-functioning equipment – maritime jobs often use cranes and other heavy-lifting equipment, increasing the danger for employees.
- Improper or lack of training – lack of proper training can prove fatal for seamen. In fact, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), 1 in 1,000 maritime crane operators will suffer a fatal injury on the job due to an operator error.
- Lack of access to essential equipment – lack of access to essential equipment can make dangerous conditions even worse.
Like other personal injury claims, plaintiffs must present evidence of negligence. However, the burden of proof is much lower in Jones Act lawsuits due to the hazardous nature of seamen’s jobs.
How Much is the Average Jones Act Settlement?
The more assessed damages, the higher chance of a larger settlement for the plaintiff. In valuable cases, the plaintiff has most likely endured significant injury and loss, amounting to higher damages. Like most other personal injury cases, the following types of damages help determine case value:
- Lost wages from injury
- Medical treatment to-date
- Estimated future medical costs of injury
- Pain and suffering of the plaintiff and his or her family
Unfortunately, while Jones Act lawsuits have high dollar-values, the plaintiff is often left with a large burden before settlement. To make a stressful situation even worse, Jones Act lawsuits can be quite lengthy. Lawyers must obtain adequate witness statements and potentially expert reports, conduct maritime machinery research and provide valid proof of negligence. Oftentimes, the defendant will purposefully draw out a case, which pressures the plaintiff to settle for a lower amount.
Pre Settlement Jones Act Lawsuit FAQ
If you work aboard a commercial cargo vessel, fishing boat, tanker or docks, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries under Jones Act. This compensation helps cover medical expenses, lost wages and other damages. The following are common questions and answers to frequently asked questions about Jones Act lawsuits and settlements.
How quickly can I expect a Jones Act claim to settle?
The worth and length of the Jones Act claims process can vary based on the following:
- The seriousness of the injury – this determines the amount of time you will have to treat before reaching a maximum point of improvement from treatment
- Your earning potential at the time of injury. Most Jones Act settlements include compensation for lost wages. This exact amount can be difficult to determine early-on in treatment.
- The jurisdiction of your Jones Act lawsuit. Case load varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Consult an attorney specializing in Jones Act claims originating in your state.
- Other factors to consider when determining the value of an Jones Act settlement include:
- How good is your lawyer?
- How good is the defense lawyer?
- Is it clear who was at fault?
- How serious was the negligence or violation?
- Was the accident foreseeable?
What is maritime law or admiralty law?
Maritime law, otherwise known as admiralty law, is a federal body of laws dedicated to the accidents and injuries workers face on or near the water. Other names for these laws include the Jones Act and General Maritime Law.
Jones Act was created primarily to ensure fair compensation for maritime workers. Largely the result of the high-risk work environment, these laws make sure that seamen have a fair shake when recovering damages.
These laws serve to protect seamen injured on or near the water, and ultimately help them seek compensation for their injuries – assuming they can prove their employer’s negligence.
How do I file a Jones Act lawsuit?
In order to recover lost wages and other damages, an injured maritime worker must file a claim under the Jones Act. The following is what will need to be prepared in order to file:
- Seek help from an experienced Jones Act attorney with a proven track record.
- Obtain all the necessary documents required to move forward. These include your medical information, accident report, any letters or documents from your employer, pictures/ video from the accident and/ or location, a list of any witnesses, etc.. It is important to get these documents as soon as possible, as it will help speed up the process.
- Following an accident, seek medical attention for your injury. This doctor visit and documentation are crucial in proving your case.
- Don’t provide any recorded statements and sign anything you don’t understand. It is important to seek legal advice and representation before doing so. Also, never agree that an injury was your fault. This will hurt your case.
Be aware that many employers and insurance companies will say almost anything to avoid giving you compensation for your injuries. A good lawyer will provide the best insight to keep you on track to receive settlement.
What are the next steps if you’ve just suffered a maritime injury?
Here are some next steps for workers injured at sea:
- Immediately report the accident to your supervisor and fill out an accident report. Try to be as detailed and accurate as possible. Don’t let the pressure get to you if the company urges you to admit fault. Stand your ground.
- Seek medical care immediately, not only for your case but for your well-being.
- Be sure to take pictures and video of the accident scene and the injury, as they will serve as solid evidence to support your claim.
- DO NOT sign any documents if you don’t understand and agree with them. It is in your best interest to run these documents by your experienced Jones Act lawyer before you sign.
- Keep all your documents organized and available. It is also in good practice to keep a journal of everything that happens, so that you and your attorney can refer to it.
- Seek an experienced Jones Act attorney as soon as you can.
What is the statute of limitations under the Jones Act?
If you were injured at your maritime job, your have three years from the date of the incident to file a lawsuit. If this injury occurs on a government owned vessel, you have two years. Regardless of these time constraints, it is important to seek legal help as soon as possible. This gives you and your attorney adequate time to prepare a strong case. This time frame proves beneficial when the injuries don’t manifest until long after the accident. However, if your injuries are apparent right away, it is important to file the suit sooner than later.
Who does the Jones Act apply to?
The Jones Act covers seamen working on a vessel that is in navigation at the time of injury. In order to clarify what navigation refers to, contact your attorney.
In addition, the Jones Act covers all injuries sustained by seamen – either on or off the vessel – as long as the seaman was working within the service of the vessel. “Service of the vessel” can mean a variety of responsibilities, ranging from a crewmember to a bartender working on the ship. Again, it is best to contact your attorney for clarification.
What is a Jones Act seaman?
A maritime worker must be deemed a “seaman” in order to qualify for the Jones Act. This is determined by their work relationship to a single vessel or a fleet of vessels. Call your attorney for clarification.
Under the Jones Act, what is the definition of a vessel?
This is fairly difficult to pinpoint. A Jones Act vessel includes a variety of different vessels, such as dredgers, tugboats, barges, tow boats, crew boats, tanker boats, supply boats, fishing boats, offshore oil rigs, etc.
The most important factor in determining your qualification is the nature of your work and relationship to the vessel, more so than the vessel itself.
What does unseaworthiness mean?
A seaworthy ship means that the vessel has all of the appropriate safety gear and equipment, safe facilities, a competent crew, and adequate hull, appliances, gear, equipment and instructions.
If a worker becomes injured due to inoperable equipment, an incompetent crew, etc., they can file an unseaworthiness claim to seek damages. The owner of the vessel has a duty to provide a safe environment for workers.
Under Jones Act, your employer is held liable for injury as a result of a vessels unseatworthiness. Even if you are partially at fault for an accident, if unsafe conditions contributed, you will likely have a successful Jones Act claim.
What is a maritime unseaworthiness claim?
An unseaworthiness claim is filed if a worker is injured due to the unsafe conditions on the vessel. An unsafe condition includes defective or unsafe equipment, worn out equipment, improperly trained or inadequate crew, insufficient number of crew and other unsafe conditions on the vessel that lead to injury.
Never assume an injury is your fault. After an accident, seek guidance from an experienced maritime attorney to deem who is at fault.
Who applies to General Maritime Law?
General Maritime Law provides assistance to injured maritime workers and passengers as well as to the family of deceased workers or passengers. Among these benefits is the “maintenance and cure,” which places a responsibility on the employer to provide all necessary medical care for the injury as well as a daily stipend while the seaman recovers from an injury.
In addition to Jones Act seamen, General Maritime law claims cover a Longshoremen or any other offshore workers against third parties. They also include claims by non-seamen and passengers for the negligence of vessel owners or third parties that resulted in injuries.
What is maintenance and cure?
Under the Jones Act, maintenance provides a daily compensation to cover the cost of basic food and shelter that the seaman would have received aboard the vessel if they were still working. This compensation typically ranges from $15 to $50 per day.
Cure, under the Jones Act, provides medical treatment, prescription medications, therapy, doctor visits, nursing services, hospital expenses and other necessary treatment during the course of recovery.
It is important to fully and regularly treat any injuries. Conservative treatment will be included in your eventual Jones Act settlement.
Do I have to see a company doctor?
Absolutely not. It is actually a best practice to pick a doctor you are most comfortable with. By not seeing a company doctor, you are avoiding a doctor who will pressure you to return to work before you are ready, or a doctor who will not disclose the true extent of your injury.
What is maximum cure or maximum medical improvement?
If a seaman is injured on the job, their employer must provide a “cure” – or medical care – for injuries sustained while in the service of the vessel. They must provide this cure until you reach maximum cure – also known as maximum medical cure or maximum medical improvement.
You have reached maximum cure once you reach a point in your recovery in which you will not improve any further. This includes if you are permanently disabled and the treatment no longer improves your condition. Once maximum cure occurs, the maintenance and cure payments will come to an end, even if you still need medication or treatment to control pain.
You may disagree with your employer on when maximum medical improvement is reached. Be sure to consult your maritime law attorney in order to ensure you are receiving the length cure that you are entitled to.
If I am not a Jones Act seaman, what law applies to my injury claim?
Most likely, if you are a maritime worker and not classified as a seaman, you are covered by the general maritime law. Although General Maritime Law sometimes overlaps with Jones Act claims, it also covers almost every type of offshore and Longshore worker.
What is the difference between Jones Act claims, Longshore claims and Workers’ Compensation claims?
These claims share some crossover, however, be aware that they are different entities.
Various states have passed Workers’ Compensation laws. These typically result in relatively small cash settlements.
The Jones Act is a federal law that protects injured seamen if negligence or unseaworthiness is involved. Jones Act claims typically involve much greater settlements.
Unlike Workers’ Compensation and Longshore-Harbor Worker Act claims, there is no state or federal agency involved in the administration of Jones Act and General Maritime Law claims.
Injured workers should be aware of the specific laws that apply to them. Filing a claim under the wrong law can subject you to losing rights. Consult with an experienced maritime attorney if you need assistance.
Can I qualify for benefits as both a Longshore-Harbor worker and a Jones Act seaman?
Under normal circumstances, you are either classified as a seaman under the Jones Act or you are a Longshore-Harbor worker covered under the LHWCA or Longshore-Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. You can only recover damages under one of these acts. Consult with an experienced maritime attorney if you are unclear about which one you fall under.
I filed under the wrong act. What do I do?
If you file a claim under the wrong act, you may run out of time to file a Jones Act claim. For example, let’s say you file under the LHWCA and you find out that you are not entitled to recovery under that theory of law. Because you cannot seek dual recovery, filing under the wrong act may prohibit you from seeking recovery under the Jones Act. If this is your case, you must contact an experienced maritime attorney immediately so that they can protect your rights and remedies.
Can I still file if I received voluntary payments of LHWCA benefits from my employer?
Even if your employer has voluntarily paid benefits to you under the LHWCA guidelines without an administrative hearing or formal settlement, you can still file a claim under the Jones Act. Just keep in mind that the LHWCA subjects any monies recovered under the Jones Act to be credited against any liability imposed by the LHWCA.
What are the benefits of hiring a specialized Jones Act lawyer?
Oftentimes, the employer will have its own legal counsel – their ultimate goal being to compensate you with the least amount possible, if anything at all. They will purposely discourage employees from obtaining information about their legal rights and will even attempt to get workers to file claims under the wrong act. By hiring an experienced Jones Act attorney, they will:
- Handle all communications with the employer and insurance company
- Ensure coverage of future medical bills
- Likely to get you a much higher settlement. Remember, you’re compensated for attorney fees in your eventual settlement.
- Allows you access to Jones Act lawsuit loans
How much are attorney’s fees?
This varies depending on the law firm you choose. Most firms charge 40% at the outset or right after they file suit. Some firms may deduct their firm’s percentage of the settlement claim before deducting the costs involved in prosecuting the case, ultimately leaving less for you. We urge you to research around to find the best deal. While many cases settle before trial, a substantial number settle after a lawsuit is formally filed.
What is a contingency fee?
A contingency fee means that in the event you win the case, you pay your attorney and/ or legal funding company a percentage of your settlement after costs are deducted and you keep the rest. However, if you lose the case, you pay the attorney and/ or legal funding nothing.
A contingency fee offers many advantages. First off, it provides you the incentive to hire a great attorney at no upfront cost. It also encourages the lawyer to be quick and efficient with your case. Contingency fees also allows you to seek financial assistance at no upfront cost to you.
How will I pay my bills while I am unable to work following a maritime injury?
Under the Jones Act, your company is maintenance and cure relating to your injuries. The maintenance they provide will help you pay your bills.
In addition, you will likely be eligible for state disability benefits or social security benefits in cases of longer disability.
Legal funding companies also help take care of the financial burden by providing a cash amount upfront. Learn more here.
Am I still eligible for compensation on my Jones Act Claim if no one else was at-fault?
Never assume you are solely at fault for the accident. This assumption will greatly hinder your case. Jones Act allows a very lax comparative liability standard for maritime accidents.
If the accident and injury is not found to be 100% your fault, you are entitled to compensation maintenance and cure compensation under The Jones Act. Just be aware to take everything your employer says lightly, as they can try to make you believe you are ineligible for benefits. Consult an attorney before making any decisions.
If I file for a Jones Act settlement, will there be any repercussions?
Common fears include losing a job or not being able to find one if other employers know that they filed a legal claim.
It is important to note that it is illegal for employers to discriminate against you for protecting your rights. Any discriminatory behavior by them can strengthen your case and may result in a larger settlement.
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