Your Rights If You've Been Injured At Sea | Jim Adler & Associates
Jim Adler | The Tough, Smart Lawyer
“I was injured offshore, as a seaman or on a cruise: what should I do? What laws apply to my case?”
These are just a few of the questions we often receive from clients who have been injured working offshore, as a passenger on a cruise or while working at ports and harbors in Texas and other states around the country.

In this brief article, we have briefly summarized some of the most important points of the Jones Act for injured seamen and how it overlaps with other laws, which might apply to your case depending on:
  • who you are;
  • where you were injured; and
  • who might be liable for your injuries.
Keep reading for more information about the laws that might apply to your offshore, cruise or dock-related injury.

I. Workers Compensation and Third-Party Personal Injury Claims
It’s important to address Workers Comp first because most people who are injured while working immediately think of filing a Workers’ Compensation insurance claim to help pay for medical expenses and lost wages. But unlike other workers, seamen are not entitled to state or federal workers’ compensation benefits. The only compensation that seamen are legally entitled to is via a Jones Act claim, maritime law or a third-party personal injury claim.

Making a claim under the Jones Act (for injured seamen) and third-party cases are typically treated as separate actions. Depending on the facts of the case, you may be able to file multiple claims: a Jones Act claim and a claim for damages from a third-party (like a parts manufacturer, a subcontractor, or another company or individual). Your right to recover will be different according to each claim and only an attorney experienced in third-party lawsuits will be able to help you navigate your rights in this web of complex and overlapping laws.

II. What is the Jones Act?
The Merchant Marine Act, or Jones Act, of 1920 is a federal law that provides for the care of American merchant marines, or seamen. Jones Act vessels are involved in critical American industries like farm products, coal, petroleum and much more. From oceans to the Great Lakes and inland waterways like the Mississippi River, shipping in America is big business and the Jones Act is meant to protect the men and women who work on these important vessels.

Most employees aboard ships, tugs, crew boats, supply boats, fishing boats, barges, and dredges will be considered Jones Act seaman. For the Jones Act, your relationship to that vessel as a seaman is more important than the type of vessel you were on when you were injured.

A. Making a Jones Act Claim
If your employer’s actions (or lack of action) contributed to your injury as a seaman, then the federal Jones Act could apply to your case. There are all kinds of ways employers can be negligent. For instance, failing to provide or maintain the right safety equipment, poorly training employees or failing to maintain a vessel in seaworthy condition are just a few of the most common examples of negligence we see in our office.

When you’re injured on a vessel you should document the cause of the injury by taking pictures and getting any copies of medical documents that are issued to you. Then, get in touch with an experienced and reputable attorney right away as you may have a specific time limit to make your claim(s).

B. Who Qualifies as a Seaman Under the Jones Act?
For a Jones Act claim an injured maritime worker must be a “seaman”. Seaman status is determined by a “substantial connection to a single vessel or a fleet of vessels”. The determination of whether or not you qualify as a seaman should be made with the help of an experienced Jones Act attorney.

Seamen who can benefit from the Jones Act include those that spend a significant amount of time working on a vessel in navigable waters. In addition, injuries and accidents must have happened while on the job.

But you don’t have to be a sailor to be a seaman for purposes of the Jones Act. Some other professions that dedicate themselves to “benefiting the boat and the crew” for substantial periods of time on open water can include:
  • cooks;
  • barbers;
  • maids;
  • clerks;
  • musicians; and
  • bartenders.
C. What if I Don’t Qualify as a Seaman but I Was Injured Offshore, at Sea or on Navigable Waters?
Maritime workers who are not “seamen” according to the Jones Act are likely covered by general maritime law. That is because the Jones Act is concerned with the injuries sustained by seamen in accidents that take place at sea. Maritime laws, meanwhile, are generally focused on issues like oil spills, maritime liens, piracy, and other commercial claims.

For practical purposes, this means workers on an oil tanker or a commercial fishing boat off the coast of Texas or in the Gulf of Mexico would speak to an attorney about the Jones Act Law for their claim, as well as potential third-party liability lawsuits.

Dock workers would most likely not qualify for protection under the Jones Act as they are not employed on a vessel and work more on land and would thus look to the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) and potential third-party liability claims. Similarly, if you were injured on a cruise ship as a passenger the Jones Act would not apply to you. Instead, maritime law and personal injury law would apply.

Nevertheless, general maritime law may sometimes overlap with Jones Act claims, LHWCA claims and state personal injury law; it all depends on the facts of the case.

This is why it is critical to have an experienced maritime and personal injury attorney in your corner as you go through the steps of determining whether you have a right to compensation for your injuries.

At Jim Adler & Associates, we have four decades of experience under our belt helping injured clients and seamen get the best outcome for themselves and their family. We can help you recover from your losses and rebuild your future. We’re a family law firm so let our family help your family – you’re important to us and that’s just how we’ll treat you.

When you call 1-800-505-1414 or contact us online for your FREE case review, we will take a close look at your case and help you pick a legal strategy and identify all of the potential parties that might owe you compensation for your lost wages and medical expenses. Remember, our clients don’t pay unless we win because our fees only come from a favorable settlement or jury verdict – never your wallet.
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