Damages and Negligence
Courts have interpreted the act to cover future lost wages, living expenses, current and future medical care, and pain and suffering when a seaman has been injured on the job because of negligence. Negligence on the part of an employer or its agents and employees is the distinguishing factor in Jones Act claims.
This means that an injured seaman must show that his or her employer’s negligence, even if slight, created or played a part in the circumstances that led to the injury. Negligence also has been shown to exist based on the clear unseaworthiness of a vessel, even if an employer is not responsible for the condition.
In order to receive benefits, an employee must first be eligible according to statutory requirements that define ”seaman”:
- The job involves work and responsibilities necessary for the function of a ship and the performance of its mission.
- The employee must be currently employed on a ship in operation or at sea.
- The length of time the employee must be employed on a ship in operation is continual and substantial.
Land-based maritime workers who perform occasional work on a ship are not considered seamen because they are not on-board crew.
Whether a seaman can enter a claim for damages under the act depends on the nature of the job involved in the accident. A seaman assigned as a crew member to a cargo ship who injures himself ashore while taking a taxi to a restaurant is not eligible to receive benefits because the injury was not the result of an activity related to their ship’s mission. A seaman injured on shore while collecting supplies for the crew and ship may be eligible to receive benefits.
Preparing a Claim
In order to protect your rights and interests, as soon as possible after a maritime accident:
- File a detailed, accurate report of the accident with your supervisor and all necessary departments and personnel.
- List any dangerous conditions or ship disrepair that was a factor in causing your accident and injuries.
- If possible, take photographs of disrepair or hazards involved in your accident.
- Gather eyewitness statements from co-workers, as well their names and contact information. This is especially important should it be necessary to call witnesses in order to verify negligence on the part of your employer.
Make an appointment with a doctor as soon as possible, and obtain copies of any diagnoses or tests. Do not rely on your ship’s doctor or a doctor your company asks you to see. It is important that an independent physician evaluate your injuries because a company doctor might have you return to work before you are able.
Statute of Limitations
A suit under the act must be filed within three years. Courts have held that nearly no circumstances will extend the statute of limitations, barring inducement or trickery, and that state laws generally cannot act upon a plaintiff to shorten the period.