Understanding Your Jones Act Benefits So Your Employer Can’t Run You Aground
Maritime laws are specifically designed to address the needs of mariners. The Jones Act, passed in 1920 and revised in 2006, was designed to facilitate the growth of shipping and commerce while extending additional protections to seamen injured on the job.
While land-based workers are provided compensation and benefits via workers’ compensation laws when they are injured on the job, injured mariners are not eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. They are, however, afforded broader rights under the Jones Act to hold their employers’ accountable and obtain more compensation than ordinary workers’ compensation laws allow.
What Are Maritime Employer Duties?
Working on commercial vessels is inherently dangerous. While it is known that seamen understand the risks involved in their chosen field, maritime employers are obligated to ensure that their vessels are seaworthy and their crew reasonably safe from injury. This obligation includes:
- Hiring a competent crew;
- Ensuring all crew receives proper training;
- Providing all crew with adequate protective equipment;
- Operating the vessel in a reasonably safe manner;
- Providing adequate medical care to sick and injured seamen;
- Avoiding storms and other dangerous weather;
- Keeping decks and other high-traffic areas free from obstacles or slippery spills;
- Repairing malfunctioning or broken machinery; and
- Generally maintaining the vessel in a seaworthy condition.
If maritime employers fail to uphold their duties, they may be liable for any injuries that result. Under the Act, even if a maritime worker was partially responsible for his or her injuries, they may receive benefits.
Who Is Protected Under the Jones Act?
The Act’s provided protection can extend to:
The test is whether the injured seaman spends at least 30% of their employed time on a qualified vessel operating in navigable waters, and their job contributes in some way to the overall purpose or mission of the vessel.
What Compensation or Benefits Can I Get Under the Jones Act?
Injured maritime workers are entitled to maintenance and cure benefits if they are injured while in service to the vessel (even while off-duty), regardless of whether employer negligence was involved.
- Loss of Earnings: Employers are obligated to pay wages you would have earned if you were not hurt or ill while working on the vessel. Employee benefits like pensions and vacation can be counted, along with potential promotions. Speaking with fellow crewmembers or employees about their earnings, or hiring a financial advisor to calculate out future lost earnings are good steps to take if you are trying to figure out what fair future compensation would be.
- Medical Expenses: Employers have a duty to compensate for medical expenses in the present and in the future if the injury started or was aggravated while you were at work on the vessel. Expenses could include medication, rehabilitation, surgery or counseling, and can stem from both mental anguish and physical pain. You are not under an obligation to use the medical professionals recommended by the company and are free to speak to your own preferred providers.
- Maintenance: Maintenance is payment that goes to covering room and board during recovery from an injury, and is determined by an agreement with a company. However, maritime injury lawyers are sometimes able to increase the amount of maintenance if the expenses exceed what has been agreed on.
You are entitled to these benefits without having to file a lawsuit, although some employers refuse to provide maintenance and cure, in which case, you may find yourself in court regardless. Even if you receive these benefits, you may still file a Jones Act negligence action against your employer, but you may not receive compensation twice.
Under a Jones Act negligence or unseaworthiness case, you may be entitled to additional damages, including:
- pain and suffering
- emotional distress
- future enjoyment of life
- future medical expenses
- loss of earning capacity
Steps to Take If You Are Injured
If you are injured while at sea or otherwise employed on a qualifying vessel, you need to seek medical attention immediately, regardless of how injured you feel. Reporting an injury is the first step in any employer negligence case, and many employers have regulations regarding the amount of time it takes to report your injury. Failure to report may cost you your benefits.