Every offshore injury has the potential to become a serious emergency. Although vessels are usually manned by crew capable of first aid, advanced medical facilities are often hours away. Even with the help of Life Flight or the Coast Guard, it can take a long time for a hurt worker to get the care they need, and every minute counts. Because the life of a seaman is so dangerous, it is the responsibility of the employer to provide a safe work environment onboard their vessels. This duty is tightly enforced, and as such, seamen that qualify under the Jones Act have protections that other workers do not have.
WHO IS LIABLE FOR AN OFFSHORE INJURY?
Workers in most industries are protected by state workers’ compensation programs. When a worker is hurt, they are eligible for compensation that pays for medical costs, lost wages, and in some cases, occupational retraining. However, to be eligible for workers’ compensation, an employee agrees not to sue their employer should they be hurt on the job. As long as an employer is not guilty of malice or gross recklessness, a worker will have to take the workers’ compensation route.
Workers’ compensation, though, is not offered to seamen. This means two things. One, a hurt seaman will not receive guaranteed compensation, even if they were acting safely at the time. Two, it means that qualified seamen can sue their employer for negligence in the event of an accident. This is a special protection afforded to workers under the Jones Act and is meant to protect a vulnerable class of laborers. Also, because employers don’t have to pay into workers’ compensation, their liability in the event of an accident tends to be much higher. This is because the Jones Act reduces the standard for proof for negligence claims made against a seaman’s employer.
In most negligence claims, the victim must prove that the defendant’s negligence was the primary reason for the accident. Under the Jones Act, all a victim has to show is that the employer’s negligence contributed in some way. In the vast majority of cases, employer negligence will be present when an offshore injury occurs. For example, say a deckhand is painting a part of the vessel, but there is no room to place their tools. If another worker walks by, steps on the tools and falls, the worker may claim that the employer did not provide adequate room to work safely. Even something as simple as a poorly designed ship layout can be part of a case. Other examples of employer negligence include a lack of fall protection, lack of crew training, poor ship maintenance, unsafe vessel navigation, outdated or poorly maintained work equipment, and a lack of crew.
If a worker is hurt while onboard a vessel, they will need to act quickly to get the help they need. An employer will often hound a hurt worker to get them to drop a claim, and these aggressive tactics can overwhelm the victim in time. An attorney, though, is practiced at turning away these underhanded tactics and will work to ensure the victim gets their day in court.