While many people know that the Jones Act provides workers’ compensation benefits to seamen who are injured on the job, they may not be aware that it also provides grounds for suing an employer. Seamen who have been injured as a result of an employer’s or shipowner’s negligence can take the other party to court to recover medical costs, disability payments, and other financial losses. However, it is up to the seaman to present a convincing case for compensation.
Elements of a Successful Jones Act Case
Under maritime law, injured workers enjoy a lower burden of proof than other personal injury lawsuits, meaning a seaman can still recover if he contributed in some way to his own injury. Even if the at-fault party had a small degree of responsibility, the seaman could still be awarded damages for negligence.
In order to win a Jones Act negligence claim, the seaman and his legal advisor must provide enough evidence to establish a clear link between the events of the injury and the owner’s responsibility. This typically involves four key elements:
Seaman status. In order to be qualified to file a Jones Act lawsuit, an injured employee must be able to prove seaman status. This includes proving that you are employed by a vessel owner or shipping company (temporary workers or contractors do not qualify) and that you spend at least 30 percent of your working time on a covered vessel or in service of the mission of the vessel.
Negligence. It is important to determine which party (or parties) is responsible for the circumstances that led to your injury. This can be the employer, the shipowner, a third party (such as a loading company or product manufacturer), or any other person whose actions or negligence contributed to your injury.
Causation. It is not enough for an at-fault party’s actions to be negligent. In order to be held liable, the act of negligence must have been a direct cause of an employee’s injuries. For instance, a lack of fire extinguishers on the vessel will not be seen as causation in a case where a seaman fell through a hatch.
Compensation. In order to be awarded financial compensation, a seaman must have accurate records of how much has been lost as a result of the injury. This will often include medical records, estimation of future lost earning capacity, and proof of any costly psychological effects of the injury.
Why it May Be Difficult to Gather Evidence of Negligence
As Jones Act cases hinge on the quality of evidence provided, there is often a vast amount of video recordings, photographs, statements, pay stubs, tax returns, test results, and other documents that will be entered into evidence. Unfortunately, it will be up to the seaman to collect all of the necessary evidence needed to prove a Jones Act case—and this is often a long and frustrating part of the process.
Barriers to collecting evidence include:
Time. Evidence disappears quickly after an injury at sea. Decks may be cleaned and damaged items may be swept overboard, reducing your chances of compensation. If you were treated onboard a ship that cannot be reached or saw a doctor in another country, obtaining the proof you need may be even more difficult.
Employer cooperation. Although your employer is required to maintain the ships’ logs and keep accurate records after an injury, employers and shipowners do not often release this information to injury victims. Some may even purposely destroy evidence of negligence, and intimidate or threaten crew members who witnessed the accident.
Recovery. Many Jones Act workers lose precious time in their cases because they are doing everything they can to heal from their injuries. In these cases, it is best to follow your doctor’s orders, attend all of your necessary appointments, and allow a maritime lawyer to take over the legal aspects of your case.
Jones Act employers will do everything they can to reduce their legal liability and minimize the amount they pay to injured employees. If you've been injured at your maritime job you need to speak with an experienced maritime injury lawyer as soon as possible. Contact us online or call us directly at 800.362.9329 to schedule your free consultation.