Maritime lawsuits are typically governed by the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, otherwise known as the Jones Act. This federal statute is primarily intended to regulate oceangoing commerce, but an entire section of the statute outlines the legal rights of seamen hurt while on the job. These protections are necessary because seamen do not have access to workers’ compensation, leaving them in an extremely tough spot if they are injured at work. People who are hurt at sea are usually hours away from receiving medical attention, so even a seemingly minor injury can become something life threatening onboard a vessel. With so much risk, it quickly became clear that the nation’s seamen needed additional legal rights to make up for a lack of medical coverage.
HOW ARE MARITIME LAWSUITS DIFFERENT FROM OTHER INJURY CLAIMS?
Unlike the vast majority of workers, seamen have the right to file a negligence claim against an employer or vessel owner in the event of an injury. This may not seem like a big deal, as negligence claims are often difficult to win, but seamen employers and vessel owners are held to a much higher standard of liability. The burden of proof the injured worker has to meet, therefore, is rather small, so employers and vessel owners are required to keep their work environments extremely safe. Even something as simple as a slippery walking surface can lead to maritime lawsuits and negligence on the defendant’s part.
Vessel owners are held to an additional duty as they must maintain the seaworthiness of their ship. This means keeping the vessel in top physical condition and submitting to regular inspections by safety regulators. If the vessel owner avoids inspections and an accident occurs, they will be responsible for any injuries that occur, especially if the accident is a result of mechanical failure. Seaworthiness also refers to the skill of the onboard crew, and if there is not enough qualified crew onboard the ship, the vessel owner will likely be responsible for any injuries that occur.
Seamen may also file maritime lawsuits against vessel owners if they are not provided with maintenance and cure following an accident. Seamen are entitled to both in the event of an injury, and they are designed to protect the hurt worker while they await proper medical treatment at a hospital. Maintenance represents the day to day living expenses the worker incurs, and this includes rent or mortgage, food, utilities, and other expenses. Cure refers to the cost of medical treatment the worker receives on the vessel and following transfer to a hospital. Once the worker recovers, their right to cure typically ends.
Maritime lawsuits are complicated, and even if a worker spends a lot of their time on or around a ship, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are qualified for protection under the Jones Act. Employers and vessel owners commonly fight back against a claim, delaying reimbursement for medical expenses, which is why many in this situation seek legal representation.