Maritime Workers Injured in Inland Waterways Protected Under the Jones Act

The Jones Act and maritime law protect seamen who work in offshore waters and also on inland waterways. If you are a maritime worker who spends significant time working on inland waterways and ports, whether as a tanker man, deckhand, captain, crew member or engineer, the act applies to you just as it does to seamen who work offshore.

As a qualified seaman, you have a right to claim damages from a negligent employer, for any injuries you get as a result of working on offshore or inland waters.

The Impact of America’s Inland Waterways

When the topic of transport comes up road, rail and offshore shipping occupy most of the conversation. Inland waterways are rarely given credit for the huge contribution they make to the country’s economy. Inland routes, such as rivers, move over 624 million tons of cargo every year including more than 60 percent of the country’s grain exports, 22 percent of domestic petroleum and 20 percent of electricity-generating coal.

It takes a lot of hands to move this cargo across America’s inland waters every day. It is these hands that keep the country moving forward. You and your fellow crewmembers are truly some of America’s unsung heroes. But just like everyone else, heroes get injured on the job too.

Injuries Suffered by Inland Maritime Workers

Maritime workers on barges, dredges, river ports, fishing boats, push boats and other commercial shipping vessels face numerous dangers when working. You may walk into an obstacle, slip and fall on a slippery or oily surface, get in the way of falling cargo, collide with another vessel, crash into a barge that’s broken free from a strong undertow, get exposed to harmful chemicals such as asbestos and benzene or even harm yourself with defective equipment such as winches. These injuries can cause:

  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Spinal injuries
  • Nerve damage
  • Bone fractures
  • Paralysis
  • Disfiguring burns
  • Amputations

In the worst cases, these injuries can cause death.

Maritime Employer Duties

Even though inland ports, terminals, and commercial vessels are dangerous environments to work in, especially in bad weather, employers are obligated by law to provide reasonably safe working conditions for maritime workers in order to keep them safe from injury and harm. Sadly, many employers neglect this duty, resulting in the thousands of injuries suffered by maritime workers every year. Establishing employer negligence under the Jones Act can include:

  • Negligent hiring and training of co-workers
  • Failure to place warning signs ahead of slippery decks or worn out staircases
  • Failure to properly equip workers
  • Failure to follow industry practices and norms
  • Issuing reckless orders despite dangerous conditions

When an employer fails to take precautions to safeguard workers from harm, a breach of legal duty under maritime law has occurred. If you suffer injury as a result of an employer’s negligence, maritime law guarantees your rights to maintenance and cure benefits to cover your medical expenses, necessary living expenses and lost wages up to the point that you have fully recovered. These benefits are payable to you by your employer after you file an injury claim reporting your injury.

Filing a Jones Act Negligence Suit

You also have the option of filing a private suit against your employer (under the Jones Act), seeking additional damages for the pain and suffering you have gone through.

Proving negligence in an inland waterway injury case is much easier to do than proving negligence in other matters. This is because the standard for negligence is very loose under maritime law, given the fact that maritime workers are employed in such dangerous environments. You may be able to prove employer negligence even if your injury was not inflicted while you were on duty, and occurred due to the incompetence of a crewmember.

Qualified seamen performing work that directly serves the mission of a vessel in commercially navigable waters are protected by the act for injuries they receive while working on inland waterways.

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