There are a few things that complicate an offshore injury claim, so a lawyer experienced in this area may be needed to produce a successful claim. The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, also known as the Jones Act, is a federal statute that dictates how these claims must proceed. The Jones Act was created to clarify the claims process involving accidents at sea. Normally, state governments determine how this is handled, but at sea, there is no clear jurisdiction. Under the Jones Act, a qualified seaman has the tools they need to pursue litigation in the event of an accident.
HOW DOES THE JONES ACT CHANGE THE LITIGATION PROCESS FOR QUALIFIED SEAMEN?
When an offshore injury occurs, the victim’s lawyer will first need to show that they are considered a qualified seaman under the Jones Act. Prior case law has determined that a seaman is qualified to make a Jones Act claimif at least 30 percent of their time is spent working on an operating vessel. In some cases, an employer may assert that an employee does not meet this requirement, so it can often become a point of contention. An experienced attorney will be able to counter this attempt to undermine a claim with work logs and supporting pieces of information.
The significant difference between Jones Act claims and other worker compensation claims is that a qualified seaman will have to prove negligence on the part of their employer or vessel owner. Unlike other worker compensation litigation, a Jones Act claim will not provide compensation to the victim if the accident was their own fault or if negligence cannot be proven. This means a victim may walk away with no financial support if the defendant manages to deny that negligence was at least in part responsible for the incident. However, there is also a major advantage to Jones Act claims. Because they are not forced to comply with payment limits that are usually specified in other worker compensation claims, a victim may be able to seek additional damages.
A vessel owner may be considered negligent if the ship has a known structural flaw, the vessel has not been submitted for required inspections, the ship is not properly manned, or if other unsafe working conditions are present. Following an offshore injury, a maritime lawyer can help the victim prove that negligence was present at the time of an accident. This can be done by reviewing the accident report, recent inspection logs, photos of the vessel, witness accounts and work logs of other crew, among other pertinent information.
Whether or not a seaman can make a Jones Act claim, though, they will be eligible for maintenance and cure in the event of an accident. What this means is that the vessel owner will have to provide an area on the ship for the accident victim to convalesce and recover. Room and board are paid for during this time, and every measure must be taken to safeguard the victim’s life and health until they can be admitted into a healthcare facility like a hospital.
These factors can make Jones Act litigation harder to deal with compared to other claims, so only an attorney experienced in maritime law should be considered when an accident at sea occurs.