A maritime injury can be frightening because medical help may be hours away. Out at sea, even a small laceration or slip and fall can be a major cause for concern, which is why employers and vessel owners are held to extremely strict liability laws. This dedicated level of protection is only available to qualified seamen, however, and this is often an area of dispute during a claim. Employers and vessel owners may do anything possible to avoid being held liable for an accident, and it’s not always clear how much a hurt seaman can pursue during a claim. To alleviate any concerns and ensure the claim is handled the right way, hurt seamen often turn to attorneys familiar with the Jones Act and other maritime regulations.
WHAT PROTECTIONS ARE QUALIFIED SEAMEN ELIGIBLE TO RECEIVE FOLLOWING A MARITIME INJURY?
As long as a seaman is eligible, they are entitled to three protections under federal law. These protections are critical because seamen are not entitled to workers’ compensation, unless the employer chooses to offer it, and most don’t.
The Jones Act provides a strong alternative to workers’ compensation by allowing qualified seamen to sue for negligence, a right that very few other workers have. A negligence claim can be filed if the seaman is injured by unsafe conditions onboard the vessel or careless actions taken by other crewmembers. Compared to most other negligence claims, the Jones Act requires a low burden of proof to confirm that the employer has acted negligently. This means that a hurt worker should be able to attain compensation even if employer negligence only plays a small part in the accident.
Vessel owners may also be responsible for an accident under the doctrine of unseaworthiness. For a seafaring vessel to be considered safe, it must be kept in good condition, a trained crew must man it, and it must not be inherently dangerous to work on. For example, a worker may round a blind spot and collide with another worker, resulting in a fall. Even something as simple as this can demonstrate an unseaworthiness that only needs to play a small part to expose the vessel owner to liability.
Finally, qualified seamen are entitled to maintenance and cure when they are hurt, no matter what caused the accident. Maintenance covers a number of expenses, including room and board, food, rent or mortgage, property taxes, homeowner’s insurance and utilities. Cure includes the worker’s medical expenses and must be paid out until the worker has attained maximal improvement.
WHAT IS A QUALIFIED SEAMAN?
For a worker to receive protection following a maritime injury, they have to be qualified based on how much time they spend working on a navigating vessel. Established during Chandris, Inc., et al. v. Latsis, a seaman is qualified for protection if they spend at minimum 30 percent of their working hours on a navigating vessel. This can be a point of contention during a claim, and employers may dispute an employee’s work schedule in an attempt to avoid liability. An experienced attorney can help neutralize this tactic and present proof of employer or owner negligence during the settlement and trial phases.