Maritime Worker Injuries: More than Workers' Compensation

Any employee can get hurt on the job and file a claim, but maritime worker injuries are special cases — and they should be treated as such.

If you work on or around the water and spend 30 percent of your time in service of a vessel(s) and you're injured on the job, don't try to file a workers' compensation claim through your state system. A federal law called the Jones Act, enacted in 1920, may provide you with a more appropriate (and larger) settlement.

WARNING: Successful Jones Act claims require a legal team that is familiar with the complexities of the maritime law.  

So what is the Jones Act, and how are its protections different from a workers' compensation claim? Here are just a few of the differences:

  1. The Jones Act is a federal law, while workers' compensation laws vary from state to state. Federal maritime law offers benefits above and beyond most state system. Not only are maritime workers eligible for injury claims under the Jones Act, they can also sue for "maintenance and cure" rulings to cover medical care and living expenses. If a ship is kept in poor condition, leading to injury, the injured worker can make an additional "unseaworthiness" claim against the employer.  

  2. Most workers are eligible for workers' compensation claims, but only workers officially designated "seamen" can file under the Jones Act. So who exactly is a "seaman?" The definition may be broader than you think. Traditionally, only workers "with duties that contribute to the function of a vessel" and a "substantial" connection to that vessel were considered "seamen" under the law. However, as long as at least 30 percent of a worker's time is spent supporting the purpose of a vessel, courts are likely to find them eligible for claims under the Jones Act.  This would include craftsmen, such as iron workers or laborers, who use a vessel in building, maintaining or destroying a bridge.  

  3. Workers’ comp claims don't assign fault to employers, whereas Jones Act settlements and verdicts may grow according to the degree of employer's negligence.  Workers' compensation systems protect employers as much as injured workers. The award doesn't go up or down according to the business owner's conduct. That's not the case under the Jones Act. In maritime law, juries assign a percentage of negligence to the employer and the injured employee. If the employer was 80 percent responsible for conditions leading to injury, you'll collect 80 percent of the top possible damages.

  4. Settlements in Jones Act cases tend to be higher than those in workers' comp cases, which are subject to certain limitations. Some states place caps on certain types of damages, limiting the eventual settlement substantially. There are no such caps under the Jones Act.

Remember: you can't file a claim under the Jones Act forever.

There is a three-year statute of limitations in Jones Act cases. The countdown begins the moment you became aware, or should have become aware, that you were injured on the job.

By comparison, filing deadlines vary by state (and even by type of injury) in workers' compensation cases. If you work on a river, Great Lake, ocean, or any other navigable waterway, you only need to remember the single time limit: three years.

Claiming compensation for maritime worker injuries is a highly specialized task; to find out if you're eligible for a case under the Jones Act, contact Wilkins Schneller Law at 314-588-8000 today.