A maritime law firm has to handle some of the most complex cases in the legal field. Workers who spend their time on vessels or around them are usually covered under something other than workers compensation, changing the nature of any injury claims. In fact, seamen and shore workers are often granted additional rights when hurt on the job, and employers are held to stricter liability than in other industries. These factors can alter everything from how much an injured worker can claim to what they can claim.


There are two federal statutes that provide coverage to seamen and shore workers in the event of an injury. Seamen are protected under the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, typically referred to as the Jones Act.  The Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act (LHWCA) covers harbor workers and longshoremen.

The Jones Act only protects qualified seamen, and the U.S. Supreme Court defines this using three criteria

  • The seaman must be assigned to a vessel.
  • The seaman’s work must facilitate the vessel’s mission or purpose.
  • The seaman’s efforts on the vessel must be significant, particularly in time spent.

In general, any worker that spends at least 30 percent of their time serving on a navigating vessel will qualify for protection under the Jones Act. However, this can be difficult for the worker to determine, and most will not be aware of their status at the time of injury. An attorney can help an injured worker with this. A qualified seaman receives two primary benefits under the Jones Act. They may sue an employer or vessel owner for negligence if the vessel is not found seaworthy for some reason, and they are also entitled to maintenance and cure while convalescing on the vessel following an injury.

The LHWCA protects a variety of shore and harbor workers, including longshoremen, repairmen, shipbuilders and workers in the ship-breaking industry. In the event of an injury, the LHWCA covers a worker’s medical care and also provides a portion of the worker’s wages while they are recovering from injury.


Attorneys in this field must know the Jones Act and LHWCA inside and out. Beyond this, an attorney must also be familiar with the nature of work around vessels as it will often be necessary to prove the injured worker’s body of work. Familiarity with the industry will also aid the attorney in discovering likely areas of liability as vessel owners are held to a stricter standard, compared to employers in other industries.

The settlement process for these claims is often hotly contested as well. This is because injured seamen can sue for negligence, and this can significantly increase what the employee can sue for. Navigating a contentious settlement is best-left to a legal professional who has done it before, or the injured worker may be taken advantage of in the process.