Understanding Offshore Injuries and Your Jones Act Protections

Maritime workers stationed at sea put their lives at risk every day. Working offshore can be exciting and lucrative, but it carries with it the risk of serious injury that can have life-long implications. Recognizing that injured seamen and their families should be entitled to compensation for their losses, the federal government enacted the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, more commonly known as the Jones Act.

The Jones Act enables you, as a qualified seaman, and your family to sue your employer directly for any injuries sustained by during the course of your work on a qualifying vessel. This means that you may be able to collect compensation for things like:

  • Lost wages, past, present, and future
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Medical bills
  • Rehabilitation
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Loss of consortium
  • Funeral expenses

Land-based workers are not entitled to file a direct negligence action against their employers. They must file for limited compensation through the workers’ compensation process.

Offshore Accidents

Given the variable nature of the sea and the diversity of vessels moving about, offshore accident causes are just as varied. Some common accidents include:

  • Collisions at sea
  • Fires or explosions
  • Slip and falls
  • Engine room accidents
  • Equipment malfunctions
  • Man overboard

Any of these accidents could be caused by:

  • Extreme weather conditions
  • Negligent operation of the vessel
  • Lack of crew training
  • Unseaworthy vessels

Given the inherently dangerous nature of offshore work, injuries from these types of accident can be quite serious. Common offshore injuries include:

  • Bruises and lacerations
  • Soft tissue injuries such as sprains and strains
  • Broken bones
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Amputations
  • Burns
  • Spinal injuries
  • Paralysis
  • Death

Jones Act Duties

The Jones Act requires owners and operators of commercial vessels to uphold a high duty of care. The owner of the vessel must ensure that the vessel is seaworthy, meaning it is fit for the purpose it will serve and is reasonably safe for employees and passengers. The owner is also charged with hiring a competent captain to run the vessel. Both the owner and captain are required to ensure that the officers and crew are competent to serve and properly trained on the operation and maintenance of the vessel and emergency procedures.

Any failure on the part of the owner or captain to uphold these duties that result in an offshore injury can be grounds for a Jones Act claim. If you have been injured while serving on an offshore vessel, your burden of proof for negligence is quite low. For example, you were injured by slipping on an oily surface because your co-worker failed to timely clean the deck. Your employer is still liable for your injuries.

Maritime Law Benefits

Qualified seamen who are injured while working offshore are entitled to a series of benefits under the Act and other maritime laws. As a Jones Act seaman, you are entitled to:

  • Competent medical care
  • Emergency evacuation, if feasible
  • Maintenance and cure
  • Economic and non-economic damages for negligence or lack of seaworthiness

Every vessel must have some level of medical facilities with trained medical personnel. You have a duty to report your injury as soon as possible, and it is in your best interests to do so in a timely manner so that you do not jeopardize your benefits. If your injury is severe, and your vessel is within the range of Coast Guard med-evac, you are entitled to transport to the mainland for additional care.

While you are under treatment for your injuries, your employer is required to pay maintenance and cure benefits. These benefits include necessary living expenses and medical expenses that are to be paid until your doctor has determined you will no longer benefit from treatment.

If you decide to file a Jones Act negligence claim or a claim for unseaworthiness, you may be entitled to recover compensation that you have not already received under maintenance and cure, including:

  • Lost wages (past, present, and future)
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Loss of consortium

The Jones Act protects injured seaman working offshore. If you are injured, it is critical to report your injuries right away and seek immediate medical treatment.

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