Injured At Sea? Beware the Jones Act Statute of Limitations

A seaman injured at sea as a result of the negligence of an employer or co-worker can file a personal injury claim against the employer seeking compensation for medical expenses and lost wages. The injured seaman also has a right to bring a claim against the employer for unseaworthiness if the injury occurred because the ship, boat or water vessel was unseaworthy. Under this claim, a seaman can seek damages for medical expenses, lost wages, future lost earnings, loss of consortium and pain and suffering.

Seamen’s rights to these remedies are established under the Jones Act. However, the right to bring a claim against your employer does not last forever. If you are injured, you must bring a claim against your employer within the statute of limitations period, or risk losing your right to bring a claim forever.

The Jones Act Statute of Limitations

A statute of limitations is simply a deadline for which a personal injury claim should be filed. If the deadline passes before you file a claim, you lose the right to claim damages. The courts will not allow a claim that is time-barred to be filed.

The deadline to file a claim under the Jones Act is three years. The clock starts ticking the moment the injury occurred. That means that if you are injured in the course of your employment on a vessel in navigation, you have only three years from the time of the injury to file a claim. If the deadline passes, the court will not admit a late claim, no matter how injured you may be or how negligent your employer was.

Likewise, the deadline for a claim of unseaworthiness is also three years. If you are injured because your vessel is not seaworthy, then you have only three years from the time the injury was sustained to file a claim against your employer.

Exceptions to the Rule

There are instances where the SOL rules are different. For example:

  • Injury aboard Government Vessel

A seaman who is injured while working on board a US government vessel has to first submit a claim to the US government. The person will then wait for six months as the government investigates the accident to determine fault and then decide whether to settle. Once the six months have passed, the injured seaman only has two years within which to file a claim.

  • Injuries Discovered Much Later

Because of the nature of maritime work, seamen are often exposed to dangerous hazards, many times without even knowing it. Because of this, a seaman may sustain injury without knowing. Such injuries are usually discovered much later. These types of injuries can be things like:

  • cancer caused by exposure to known or unknown carcinogens
  • repetitive injuries
  • serious infections caused by long-term exposure to molds

In such instances, the deadline is three years from the date the injury was discovered. The clock starts ticking from the date the injury was discovered rather than from the date the injury occurred.

Why Have a Statute of Limitations

These timeline rules were established for a number of reasons, among them:

  • To encourage people injured on the job to act on their rights quickly. When a claim is filed late, it becomes difficult to gather evidence. Hence, it is harder for the court to dispense justice. A deadline is an effective way of encouraging people to exercise their rights in time.
  • To promote fairness. Without a deadline, some people would file frivolous claims for injuries sustained as far back as two decades ago. By which time witnesses may have moved, and evidence may be inaccurate. This unnecessarily complicates court cases, subjecting courts to undue strain as a result of one person’s decision to sleep on his rights.

If you are injured in a maritime accident, it is imperative for you to report the injury as soon as possible, and if you intend to bring a claim against your employer, you must do so within the legally designated deadlines.

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