Maritime Injury Lawsuits: Take the Settlement or Go to Trial?

Injured workers with a maritime lawsuit often face a difficult decision. Should I go to trial or settle? Going to trial involves big risks and is expensive. At the same time, no one should accept a  settlement offer that does not fairly compensate them for their damages. So when should an injured worker expect to take such a case all the way to trial? It depends.

The short answer is the vast majority of cases settle pretrial. But, cases do go to trial and it is often when the parties simply cannot resolve a dispute as to liability or damages and must ask a jury to do so. The long answer requires a little background on maritime law as it relates to personal injury cases. Here's what everyone who works on U.S. navigable waters should understand about the difference between settlement and trial in a maritime injury case:

Personal injury law for workers on U.S. waterways is very different than a standard workers' compensation claim.

Workers' compensation is a no-fault system meaning that you do not have to prove that your employer was negligent. Seamen — a legal term that describes virtually anyone who works predominantly on the water — fall under an entirely separate branch of personal injury law called the Jones Act which requires injured employees to prove that their employer was negligent in order to recover for their injuries.

However, the Jones Act allows injured seamen to recover damages that often far exceed those awarded under workers' compensation law. It is imperative that every injured seaman seek out an attorney who is experienced in maritime law and the Jones Act. Workers’ compensation attorneys are rarely experienced in this unique area of law.  

Most Jones Act cases are settled out of court, and that's typically a good thing.

Settlements are common in Jones Act cases, and for a good reason: insurance companies and injured plaintiffs don't want to risk a trial. A trial is costly for both parties, and you can never predict how a jury will view your case. While one jury may award an injured plaintiff large damages for their injuries, another may award half as much or none at all. However, hiring experienced Jones Act attorneys will insure that your case is presented to the jury in the best possible light in order to achieve the best possible outcome.

Generally speaking, insurance companies prefer to offer a fair sum after a few rounds of negotiation with experienced maritime lawyers. The nature of maritime work can lead to serious injuries associated with high damages. It is often the safer course for insurance companies to agree to a settlement rather than expending resources on a trial that could end in even higher damages for the plaintiff.

If you do go to trial, hiring experienced maritime attorneys gives you the best opportunity to win.

In rare cases, plaintiffs and defendants cannot agree on a settlement, and a Jones Act case goes to trial. That's why you need experienced trial lawyers with a history of success even if your case is likely to be settled out of court.

The attorneys of Wilkins Schneller Law have been protecting the rights of seamen for decades and understand the subtleties of the Jones Act that get ensure injured workers get justice, at trial or out of court. Call the offices of Wilkins Schneller at 314-588-8000 for a free consultation today.