Rights of Injured Maritime Workers

Paul Hofmann

Specializes in personal injury, with emphasis on maritime, railroad and construction worker tort claims

1. THE COMPENSATION TO WHICH YOU MAY BE ENTITLED IF YOU ARE AN INJURED JONES ACT SEAMAN

A. MAINTENANCE AND CURE

A seaman is entitled to recover maintenance and cure if he becomes sick or injured while in service to a vessel. Maintenance is an amount of money sufficient to pay the reasonable cost of food and lodging while a seaman recovers from his illness or injuries. Cure is the obligation to pay the costs of doctors, hospitals and other medical care. These rights do not depend upon a seaman proving that the shipowner was negligent, and even if the injury is caused solely by the seaman, or if the injury occurred off the vessel, he still is entitled to maintenance and cure. Maintenance and cure must be paid until the seaman reaches maximum medical improvement.

The Dollar Amount or Rate of Maintenance

In general, a seafarer is entitled to maintenance which will pay for his actual costs of food and lodging, so long as reasonable. Alvarez-Rodriquez v. Bermuda Star Lines, 898 F.2d 312 (2d Cir. 1990). However, if there is in place a collectively bargained-for rate of maintenance, as negotiated by the employer and the seafarer's labor union, the CBA rate will be enforced. See, e.g. Ammar v. United States of America, 342 F.3d 1333 (2d Cir. 2003). One Circuit Court, however, has held that CBA set maintenance rates are not necessarily enforceable. Barnes v. Andover Co., 900 F.2d 630 (3rd Cir. 1990).

B. RECOVERY FOR DAMAGES CAUSED BY JONES ACT NEGLIGENCE AND VESSEL UNSEAWORTHINESS

A Jones Act seaman is entitled to recover damages caused by negligence of his employer or his co-workers or through the unseaworthiness of his vessel, its appliances or insufficiency of its crew. These rights are in addition to the right to receive maintenance and cure.

What is the difference between unseaworthiness and negligence? A vessel is unseaworthy if it, or any of its appurtenances which cause an injury, are not reasonably fit for their intended purposes. Unseaworthiness relates to a condition of the vessel and its equipment. Whether or not the owner knew about the condition is irrelevant. A line that parts or a deck that is excessively slippery will be unseaworthy conditions, whether or not the owner had inspected and knew of the conditions. Negligence, on the other hand, refers to peoples' actions or inactions. Negligence simply means the failure to act reasonably under the circumstances, either by doing something that should not have been done, or failing to do something that reasonably should have been done.

What is Jones Act Negligence? Under the Jones Act, a seaman may sue his employer for causing him injuries suffered as a result of the negligence of the owner of the vessel, its agents, or one of the vessel's crew. As with a claim for injuries caused by an unseaworthy condition, contributory negligence on the part of the seaman does not bar his recovery, but his recovery will be reduced proportionately by the percentage amount found of his own negligence. The great benefit of the Jones Act is that the seaman only need to show that the employer's negligence was a cause, now matter how slight, of the injury, as opposed to a regular personal injury case where you have to prove that the negligence was a "substantial cause" of the injury.

What you may sue for if you are a seaman injured through negligence or unseaworthiness. Under the Jones Act, if a seaman is injured through his employer's negligence, or the unseaworthiness of the ship, the seaman may be compensated for pain and suffering, impairment of earning's capacity, lost earnings, medical bills and other damages which he has incurred.