A Jones Act arbitration usually occurs when there is a dispute or disagreement on a seaman’s Jones Act claim. In other instances, an arbitration may be presented simply because employers are trying to cut corners and reduce the amount of benefits the injured seaman is entitled to. Even though it may seem convenient and more affordable to agree to an arbitration claim and forgo litigation, there are several disadvantages that you should be aware of.
What is a Maritime Arbitration?
A maritime arbitration works like other arbitration in which a private attorney decides the outcome of a case as opposed to a judge or unbiased third party. In some instances, a seaman may have a clause in an employment agreement that mandates arbitration in the event of an injury, but this usually rare. If there is no arbitration clause, it’s illegal by federal law to force it upon a seamen without consent.
Why Employers Would Rather Settle Your Case Via Arbitration
As mentioned earlier, some employers prefer arbitration because the benefits and compensation amount is generally reduced. In addition, employers may understand that litigation and a jury trial can get quite expensive and arbitration is an effective way for them to cut costs. Some employers goes as far as forcing seamen to sign an arbitration agreement by threatening to cut off their medical care until it’s signed. Although this is certainly illegal, a myriad of confused seaman sign away their rights because they fear they won’t have the medical benefits they need in order to heal from the injuries.
Another tactic that employers use to get seamen to consent to arbitration is to state that arbitration will be much quicker and benefits will be disbursed faster. However, according to recent study performed by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services, most average arbitration case takes around 475 days. Maritime cases that go through courts, on average, take around 18 months.
Most employers also understand that once an arbitration decision has been made, there is not much recourse for seamen should they dispute the outcome. It’s highly recommended to seek legal representation immediately if you feel coerced into signing into an arbitration agreement you are uncomfortable with.
How Arbitration May Limit Compensation to Injured Seamen
When seamen are injured, they have the right to maintenance and cure benefits regardless of how the accident happened or who was at fault. Maintenance and cure compensation varies, but the majority of seamen are not provided enough compensation to live on while they are injured. Employers realize this and may entice seamen into an arbitration agreement by offering pay advances and/or a percentage of their salary while they are recovering. Although this may seem enticing, many seamen actually lose out on the compensation they could have won had they not agreed to an arbitration.
If You’ve Been Threatened or Coerced Into Arbitration
Keep in mind that once you sign an arbitration agreement, you probably have very few options left if you find the compensation is not enough. If you’ve been pressured into signing an agreement, be certain not to fill out any forms or sign anything until you’ve secured legal representation from an experienced Jones Act attorney. For more information on rights and compensation, please refer to our article Maritime Rights and Compensation.