deck of cargo ship with various hazards visibleIf you have ever worked a land-based job in New York or New Jersey, you are probably familiar with workers' compensation. As a kind of no-fault insurance, workers' comp covers employees' medical costs and lost wages if they are injured on the job or become ill with an occupational disease. It doesn't matter if the employee's carelessness caused the injury or if it was caused by employer negligence. Either way, the worker is covered, and they are barred from suing the employer for damages.

If you work on a seafaring vessel, however, you are not eligible for state or federal workers' comp benefits. Instead, you are covered by key elements of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, better known as the Jones Act. Under this law, seamen can not only recover compensation similar to traditional workers' compensation, but they also have the right to sue their employer or the owner of the vessel for further damages if their injuries were the result of negligence. We take a look at how these claims work and how a Jones Act attorney can help throughout the process.

Injuries Not Caused by Employer Negligence

Injured seamen are almost always automatically entitled to compensation, regardless of the cause of injury or whether negligence played a part or not. When negligence is not involved, compensation is granted through a "maintenance and cure" claim with the employer. Maintenance refers to the seaman's right to day-to-day living expenses, and cure refers to their medical expenses. Compensation is only paid until the seaman is fit to return to work or they have reached maximum medical improvement and further medical treatment will not help them.

What to Do If You Were Injured Because of Someone Else's Negligence

Vessels are dangerous places to work. Decks, engine rooms, below-deck areas, mess halls, and even sleeping areas are full of potential hazards. The Jones Act requires vessel owners and companies that employ seamen to provide employees with a reasonably safe place to work and to maintain the vessel in a reasonably safe condition. When they fail in those duties and an employee is injured as a result, the injured seaman can sue the owner or employer for damages above and beyond the maintenance and cure to which they are entitled.

Examples of potentially negligent situations on board vessels include the following:

  • Inadequate safety training. When employers fail to provide thorough safety training, seamen may not be aware of proper emergency procedures, firefighting techniques, or how to handle hazardous materials onboard.
  • Lack of proper equipment. Absence or poor maintenance of safety equipment such as life jackets, fire extinguishers, personal protective gear, and emergency evacuation equipment can jeopardize the crew's safety during emergencies.
  • Unsafe working conditions. Failure to maintain the vessel and its equipment in proper working condition can lead to accidents like slip and falls, machinery malfunctions, and exposure to dangerous substances.
  • Fatigue and overwork. Employers who push seamen to work excessively long hours without proper rest can cause fatigue, decreased focus, and an increased likelihood of accidents.
  • Failure to address weather warnings. Ignoring or downplaying severe weather warnings can expose seamen to hazardous sea conditions, increasing the risk of vessel damage and crew injuries.
  • Neglecting maintenance and inspections. Employers who do not schedule regular maintenance or inspections may cause equipment failures, structural weaknesses, or even engine breakdowns while at sea.
  • Neglecting safety regulations. Employers who disregard maritime regulations and safety standards put the lives of seamen at risk and can lead to legal consequences as well.

Proving a Jones Act Negligence Claim

Jones Act negligence claims have a relatively low burden of proof, which helps seamen get the damages they are owed. For a successful claim, the injured seaman will have to prove that the employer's negligence played a part in the cause of the injury—no matter how small and regardless of other contributing factors. This is a much lower burden of proof than in other kinds of negligence cases, such as personal injury claims. However, it is important that you work with an experienced Jones Act injury lawyer to ensure the best possible outcome and maximum compensation.

Paul T. Hofmann
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Focused on personal injury, with an emphasis on maritime, railroad and construction worker tort claims.