After an accident on a vessel, all you want to do is heal from your injury so you can return to work. Unfortunately, your employer, the shipowner, and their insurance companies will do everything they can to reduce their liability—including taking advantage of you during your recovery. Everything you do or say in these few weeks can affect the outcome of your claim or even your ability to file a claim at all.
Don’t Agree to Anything That Could Jeopardize Your Maritime Injury Lawsuit!
The first thing you need to know is that you don't have to sign anything to get your Jones Act maintenance and medical benefits. However, employers or insurance company agents might attempt to persuade injured employees to sign agreements before releasing medical payments or slip unfair clauses and disclosures into “routine” paperwork.
A good rule of thumb is to never sign anything from an employer or insurer before reviewing it with an attorney. If you aren’t 100% sure what you’re signing, you could accidentally give insurers the ammunition they need to deny you fair payment.
Common Ways Insurers Use Your Cooperation Against You
- Recorded statements. When you report an offshore injury, the insurance company will open an investigation into the incident. This includes reviewing your employer’s safety record, gathering evidence, and collecting witness statements. They will likely contact you the days after the incident to request that you make a recorded statement. Even if you like your employer or the rep assigned to your case, you should understand that these statements serve one purpose: to limit the amount you receive. It may be easier to record your version of events in a conversation than in writing, but people are far less careful of the words they use when speaking. Do not give the insurance company a statement in person, over the phone, or sign off on their version of events without first talking with an independent maritime attorney.
- Medical records releases. Your insurance company will likely request copies of your private medical records. While they may need some protected information to reimburse you for medical expenses (such as your recent bills and insurance statements), they could send over a blanket release form that gives them access to your entire medical history. Once they have your permission, they can comb through your complete medical record, making notes of preexisting conditions, canceled appointments, and anything else that can hurt your credibility.
- Arbitration agreements. One of the most devious ways to limit a Jones Act claim is to coerce an injured worker into signing an arbitration agreement in exchange for payment above and beyond what is owed under the law. Upfront payments may be helpful in the short term, but arbitration prevents you from taking your case before a jury—severely limiting any award you could get for pain and suffering.
- Settlement agreements. Maritime injuries can have devastating effects on employees, many of whom will not be able to return to highly-physical work at sea. Insurers know that they could potentially be on the hook for all future income losses and economic hardship, so they may try to settle your case as soon as possible. However, what seems like a high settlement may only last a few years—and accepting the payment means signing a waiver that prevents you from asking for more money in the future. You should never agree to settle a Jones Act case until you know the full extent of your injuries, and even then, you should have an experienced maritime attorney review the document.
A Jones Act Injury Can Examine Your Case at No Cost to You
From the moment your accident occurs, your employer and the shipowner will be working to minimize the amount they pay out. You might accidentally sign a release without realizing it, as binding clauses are often buried in documents. An employer’s insurer may give you the impression that your benefits can’t be processed without a statement or signature. Even if you avoid the insurance company’s devious tactics, you are still at a disadvantage when negotiating fair payment for your injuries.
If you or someone you know has been injured at sea, we can help ensure that your legal rights are protected and that you receive the compensation you deserve. Call us at 1-800-3-MAY-DAY or fill out our online contact form to begin your no-obligation consultation. You can also learn more about these types of claims in our complimentary guide, Are You a Seaman Injured in a Maritime Accident? Know Your Rights.