When Should an Injured Seaman Consider Filing a Maritime Lawsuit?
When someone is hurt on a vessel, the first thing they should do is to report the accident to a supervisor onboard. The sooner the hurt worker reports the situation, the better off they will be should they file a claim. If the hurt worker waits, the insurer and court will consider it a sign that the victim’s injuries weren’t pressing and don’t deserve much compensation.
A maritime lawsuit follows different procedures than a standard claim, and seamen who qualify for its provisions will have a few advantages on their side. This is a fair tradeoff, as seamen are not eligible for protection under the Workers’ Compensation Act. With that layer of protection, the only option a hurt industry worker has is to file a claim against an employer or vessel owners, citing negligence or vessel unseaworthiness. While winning a claim against an employer is normally difficult to do, the Jones Act makes it easier for seamen to protect themselves, even if they must take their employer or a vessel owner to court.
The worker’s employer will almost always require the worker to fill out an accident report. It is best to fill out the report as accurately as possible, but if the report asks who is at fault, it is best to claim ignorance in the matter. If the worker claims their employer is not at fault, it can sabotage a claim. However, if the worker lays the blame on their employer for a minor injury, their chances of future employment will sharply decrease. Also, insurance companies will aggressively pursue a written or recorded statement from the victim, but this should be avoided if possible. Everything will be used against the victim, and little good can come from doing everything the insurance company wants.
Medical treatment should be a top priority, and victims can improve their prospects by recording their treatment and following it to the letter. Once recovery begins, it is time for the victim to decide whether or not to file a maritime injury lawsuit.
In general, legal experts recommend a victim consult with an attorney in one of the following situations
- The insurance company is not paying the victim’s maintenance and cure
- The victim is having difficulty getting medical treatment
- The “value” of the case (or realistic settlement) exceeds $20,000
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If the worker decides to file a claim, and if they spend at least 30 percent of their working time on a navigating vessel, they can use the Jones Act to strengthen their chances of compensation. The Jones Act reduces the burden of proof on the victim, which means the employer or vessel owner will take on liability for damages more often. Even something as simple as a spilled oil bucket, a worn rope, or a poor ship layout can be grounds for a claim.
An attorney will be able to help a victim through the process and help them accurately gauge their damages, ensuring they get all of the treatment they need.