Jones Act Info Center – Am I entitled to workers’ compensation?

Getting sick or injured while working is painful and inconvenient enough. Add to that the hassle of getting reimbursed for your pain, suffering, medical bills and lost wages, and it’s almost more than some people can bear. The problem with injuries sustained on water vessels is that it’s not really easy to determine whether you should make a Jones Act claim or a Workers’ Compensation claim. We hope to eliminate some of the confusion here.

Workers’ Comp or Jones Act Claims, Which One?

Workers’ Comp is a state-operated program, based on state-determined rules, that provides benefits to injured employees. Federal workers have a separate Federal Workers’ Comp plan. The JA is a federal statute that provides benefits and protections to injured seamen. If you are injured, you don’t truly have a choice as to which laws you make your claim under. This choice is made for you by the government. What factors will they consider when making this decision?

  • Location – are you working on land, or on a vessel capable of operating in navigable waters? Are you in U.S. waters?
  • Job – Do you spend more than 30% of your time working on a vessel capable of operating in navigable waters? Does your work directly benefit the mission of the vessel?
  • Vessel – Is the boat U.S. built, or flying under the U.S. Flag?
  • Employer – Does your employer qualify as a “ship owner” under the Act?

Generally speaking, if you are a seaman, spending the majority of your employed time on a U.S. flagged commercial vessel that traverses waters that may be used for commerce, including oceans, bays, rivers, and some lakes, you will qualify for protections in the event that you are injured.

On the other hand, if you are a dock-worker that spends most of your time on land, you will most likely need to make a Workers’ Compensation claim. In this case, you would more than likely be covered under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA).

Does It Really Matter Which Law Applies?

Both of these statutory schemes are designed to provide injured workers with some type of compensation. However, Jones Act benefits are a bit more expansive than Workers’ Compensation benefits. Under Workers’ Comp laws, injured employees may receive:

  • Reimbursement for medical expenses
  • Compensation for permanent disabilities
  • Weekly income
  • Retraining
  • Survivor benefits

Injured workers making claims under the Workers’ Comp scheme do not have to prove negligence, but they cannot file a lawsuit directly against their employer.

The Act provides some of the same benefits, and some additional benefits for injured seamen, including:

  • Maintenance & Cure – maintenance benefits cover the cost of living while you are injured, and cure benefits provide compensation for reasonable medical expenses. It is not necessary to prove negligence on the part of the employer.
  • Lost Wages – wages must be paid by the employer from the time of the injury to the time that the voyage is completed.
  • Negligence Lawsuit – Injured seamen, may file a lawsuit against their employer directly if the injuries are caused by the negligence of the employer or crew. This is significant because non-seaman are unable to recover damages for pain and suffering, future medical bills, loss of future earnings, disfigurement, mental anguish and loss of enjoyment of life.

If you are injured during the course of your employment, you will want to collect the maximum amount of damages that you possibly can. Seeking the advice of an experienced Jones Act attorney can help make that happen.

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