A maritime accident involves more risk than most other incidents, as it often occurs on or around water. Vessel owners and captains are required to be vigilant when it comes to safety, but this vigilance is often lacking. And when an incident does happen, workers are not guaranteed compensation for their injuries. Seamen are not allowed to join workers’ compensation programs, which represents a major risk on their part. After all, some injuries can threaten a worker’s livelihood and long-term health, and without restitution, they may not even be able to afford a doctor’s visit. Qualified workers do have a significant advantage, though, in the form of the Jones Act. This federal statute confers additional legal rights to seamen and any other workers that meet the qualifications, and it provides an option for restitution in the event of an injury.
WHAT IS THE LEGAL PROCESS FOLLOWING A MARITIME ACCIDENT?
When a worker is hurt at sea, they are first entitled to compensation through the principle of maintenance and cure. Maintenance and cure are established through common law, and not through the Jones Act, but they are the initial layer of support given to hurt workers. Maintenance and cure includes compensation for day to day living costs and medical expenditures. An employer is required to supply maintenance and cure until the worker can no longer benefit from additional medical treatment.
The Jones Act, though, offers significant legal rights beyond maintenance and cure. When a worker is hurt on the job, negligence is often responsible to a degree, whether on the part of another worker or on the part of the vessel owner. For example, a vessel may not be adequately staffed, so every crew member is required to put in extra hours, increasing the chances of a maritime accident happening. Normally, workers’ compensation programs preclude the right to sue an employer for negligence, in return for guaranteed restitution. But because seamen are not entitled to guaranteed compensation, the Jones Act allows qualified seamen to pursue a negligence claim against the vessel owner or their employer.
This means that a worker may be able to secure a much higher settlement than they could through workers’ compensation, but it also means the victim will have to prove their employer was negligent in their duty of care. This is another area where the Jones Act is beneficial to seamen. The Jones Act also increases the liability an employer has following a maritime accident, so employers must take extra care to ensure workers are given a safe environment. Normally, a victim has to demonstrate that the defendant’s negligence was the primary, governing factor in an incident. With the Jones Act, though, a victim just needs to demonstrate that their employer’s negligence was involved to some degree.
Qualification through the Jones Act is based on the victim’s work history, so a defendant will often center their defense on undermining this. A maritime accident attorney will ensure this doesn’t happen, and that the victim is allowed to exercise their legal rights to their fullest.