When a Seaman is injured during the course of his employment, his or her injury is covered by a Federal Law known as The Jones Act. There are many steps that go into a Jones Act case, such as proving the person can be classified as a Seaman and proving that a vessel is involved. These both can be complicated to prove because the Federal Statute does not define what a Seaman is and the definition of a vessel is very vague. In order for an injured Seaman to reach Seaman status under the Jones Act, they must: (1) have duties that contribute to the function of the vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission and (2) have a connection to a vessel in navigation (or to an identifiable group of such vessels). A vessel is defined as any watercraft practically capable of maritime transportation, regardless of whether or not that is the primary purpose or state of transit at a particular moment.
Next, a Jones Act claimant must prove that they were injured while working. This is usually a factual issue that must be fleshed out through discovery. For example, is a fisherman hurt while walking to his cot during a break in the course of his employment a Jones Act case? Absolutely (at least that is what I would argue)! I would start by looking at the employment agreement first because their work typically consists of actual on deck time and time spent on their breaks. If you were to hire an attorney that does not specialize in Maritime law, they may not know to look at the employment agreement, which could jeopardize your case.
After proving the above, the party responsible for the injury (either the employer or owner of the vessel) must have breached some standard of care. Under the Jones Act, the Seaman and employer are required to exercise ordinary care under the circumstances. Basically, both parties are supposed to act like other reasonable Seaman and marine employers in like circumstances. This aspect of a Jones Act case is exactly like injury cases on land. Negligence is proportioned by a finder of fact (a jury) and the injured party’s compensation is proportioned accordingly. For example, if a plaintiff wins $100,000 at trial and the jury apportions fault at 90% defendant and 10% plaintiff. The plaintiff wins a total of $90,000. While this part is similar to other personal injury cases, you do not want to hire a Personal Injury attorney that does not specialize in Maritime law due to the other unique factors that are involved in a Jones Act case,
In addition to Jones Act remedies, injured seamen are entitled to receive maintenance, cure and wages in their injury cases. When a seaman is injured, regardless of fault, they are entitled to these remedies. It is the ship-owner’s duty to provide maintenance and cure if the seaman becomes sick or injured derived from the unique hazards of the job. Even acts just short of culpable misconduct on the seaman’s part will not negate the ship-owners responsibility to provide these services. In lay terms, maintenance and cure requires the ship-owner to pay the seaman’s wages and hospital bills until the point of maximum cure, or when the seaman is completely healed or cannot get any better with additional medical care. If the ship-owner refused to pay this benefit, this could be cause to ask for for punitive damages.
Another remedy available to injured Seamen is a cause of action titled unseaworthiness. Unseaworthiness is a claim that the ship was unseaworthy for the task at hand and/or a warranty of fitness for duty. The warranty of seaworthiness applies to the hull of the ship, the ship’s cargo-handling machinery, hand tools aboard the ship, ropes and tackle, and in general, all sorts of equipment either belonging to the ship or brought aboard by others. Also, a ship may be unseaworthy if it lacks certain equipment, such as maps or lifesaving gear.
As you can see there are numerous intricacies regarding these types of cases, so it is essential that injured Seamen seek advice from a maritime attorney to get the maximum compensation they are entitled to. This is especially true with injured cruise line employees. Most of the big cruise lines require suits to be filed in Federal Court in Miami, so you would need a Maritime Lawyer in South Florida to handle the case.
At LaBovick, LaBovick & Diaz, we have an experienced team of Maritime lawyers to assist you in your Jones Act case. If you believe you have a Jones Act case, give us a call today at (866) LaBovick or (561) 625-8400.