The Process of a Jones Act Case: Qualify, Negligence, Damages
Working on an oil rig or vessel requires physically demanding work and accidents and injuries can and do occur. It is the responsibility of your employer to ensure safe working environments to minimalize the risks of accidents and injuries. Even though most employers will attempt to provide safe working conditions, when an accident occurs and you are injured, you could potentially have grounds to file a claim under the Jones Act.
Step 1: Do you qualify to file a claim?
There are specific requirements you must satisfy to be allowed to file a claim under the Jones Act, which also entitles you to maintenance and cure benefits. The primary defining factor is you must be in the employ of a vessel, oil rig or other seaworthy craft and must spend a minimum of 30% of your time onboard or in the service of the vessel as an active member of the crew.
Furthermore, you position must contribute in some manner to the operation of the vessel. This aspect covers a very broad range of positions and job functions, such as chefs, fishermen, drilling operators, crew members and more. If you are a contract worker or temporary worker, there can be limitations, based on the type of work performed, where you may not qualify to file a claim.
Additionally, there are specific guidelines as to what constitutes an actual vessel per the Jones Act guidelines. To illustrate, any vessel that travels out to sea and goes from port to port, or is docked temporary in port for short periods often satisfies the requirements. On the other hand, a vessel that is retired and moored to a dock permanently, even it is still could be operated on the open sea, would not qualify.
If you are not sure whether your position onboard or the type of vessel would allow you to file a claim if you were injured, you should speak directly to one of our maritime attorneys.
Step 2: Was there negligence that resulted in your injuries?
Negligence is vital in all types of personal injury cases including those regulated under maritime laws. However, there are some key differences in regards to the level of negligence on the part of the employer.
Unlike personal injury cases that occur on land, where the employer needs to be entirely at fault, this does not apply to maritime injuries. Rather, the claimant (injured party) only has to prove the employer was partially at fault or only partially contributed to the injuries sustained. Any level of negligence by the employer is taken into account.
This concept is legally referred to as causation and in regards to Jones Act cases, is sometimes also referred to as “featherweight causation” since the level of burden of proof is minimal. Yet, it is worth mentioning the level of negligence by the employer, while not a factor in filing a claim, is used to determine the monetary damages you are seeking.
Negligence onboard a vessel or oil rig could occur under different circumstances including, but not necessarily limited to:
- Lack of employee training for the job being performed.
- Failure to maintain safe working conditions – i.e. slipper decks, broken/missing hand rails on stairwells, etc.
- Failure to take reasonable care to prevent injuries.
- Another seaman operates equipment in a manner that is deemed unsafe.
- Another seaman acts in a manner that another seaman in the same circumstances would consider unsafe behavior, such as physically assaulting another crew member.
- Being forced to use damaged, broken, or improperly maintained equipment.
- The number of workers required to perform a task is not sufficient.
- Proper supervision was not provided.
- Seamen were given orders by senior crew members that created unsafe conditions.
- The employer requires seaman to work mandatory overtime continuously without any sufficient time off.
Step 3: Initiate and file a claim.
If you qualify to file a claim for injuries and there was some level of negligence on the part of your employer, you need to file a claim. The claim process is fairly straight-forward, but you need to know your rights and responsibilities, as well as when it is time to contact a maritime lawyer.
The first and most important thing you need to do is report your injury to your captain, senior officer or other onboard supervisor. You only have a short window to report the accident and resulting injury. Failing to do so will prevent you from filing a claim. It is best to report any injuries right away.
If at all possible, take pictures of where you were injured and the surrounding areas. This will help you later recall details when you complete and file your accident report with your employer. Additionally, should you pursue a personal injury lawsuit, the pictures could benefit your case, especially if they depict unsafe working conditions.
The next thing you will want to do is seek medical care and treatment from the onboard physician, emergency medical technician, or your own doctor, depending on whether you are docked or at sea when the accident occurs. You should seek treatment no matter how minor your injuries.
In some cases, minor injuries could progress and worsen if you continue to work. In addition, in rare cases, while the injury may only seem minor to you, you could actually have more severe and life threatening internal injuries.
If you are at sea and the injuries are life threatening or more severe, request to be evacuated to land if at all possible. Your employer and the ship’s captain are required to record the accident and resulting injury in the ship’s log, as well as submit a Report of Maritime Accident, Injury, or Death whether you are treated onboard, evacuated, or seek treatment on land.
Two important things to keep in mind:
- Do not continue to work after being injured. If you continue to work, then report the injury later, your employer is going to assume you weren’t hurt bad enough because you kept working and you could hurt your case.
- Failing to file a claim in a timely manner could hurt your case. The law allows you one week to file an accident and injury with your employer. If you don’t your employer will assume your injuries were not that significant.
As soon as you can, after receiving medical care and starting treatment, you need to submit your own completed accident report. You need to be very specific about what occurred, how it occurred, and how you were injured. You should also list any other seamen that were present and witnessed the accident.
Most company provided forms will have a section that will ask who was at fault for the injuries. Before filling out this section, if you are not sure what to put down or who was at fault, contact one of our maritime attorneys right away.
Sometimes employers will trick injured workers to enter they were responsible for the accident. They will get them to admit fault for their injuries on their accident report forms, even though the employer contributed some level of negligence and could be held accountable for personal injuries.
After you file your accident report with your employer, then the employer’s insurance company is notified. It is at this point, you need to contact a maritime lawyer, if you have not done so already.
The goal of your employer’s insurance company is to get you to settle for the least amount allowed. They will want you to give them a written or recorded verbal statement to resolve the case quickly and quietly. Whatever you do, do not speak to any representative from your employer’s insurance company without your lawyer present.
Lastly, throughout the process up to this point, make sure you keep all documents, records, reports, and other copies you have been given relating to the accident and your injuries.
How Long Does It Take to Resolve a Jones Act Case?
After filing a personal injury claim, you should start to receive maintenance and cure benefits within a short period of time. In regards to the actual monetary damages you are seeking with help from your lawyer, cases can take anywhere from several months to several years to fully resolve and settle.
It will largely depend on how willing your employer and their insurance company is in settling your case for a fair and reasonable amount. For further questions about filing a maritime injury claim against your employer or if you have already started the process and need legal advice, please feel free to contact Schechter, McElwee, Shaffer & Harris, L.L.P. at 713-364-0723 now to speak with one of our maritime admiralty law lawyers.