If you’re a seaman and have been injured on the job, it’s important to know that there are a specific set of laws and regulations regarding disability benefits that only apply to the maritime industry. Injured seamen usually aren’t covered under the typical worker’s compensation that most other employees receive in the event of an injury, and in turn need an attorney who is experienced in handling cases that involve the Jones Act and general maritime law.
How is a Maritime Lawyer Different Than Other Lawyers?
A maritime attorney specializes and understands admiralty and maritime law, a distinct body of law that oversees accidents, offenses, and injuries that take place on navigable waters. Navigable waters can include any body of water in which seamen work, including oceans, streams, rivers, and lakes, as well as vessels that are tied to the dock on waters but not actually navigating in water. However, vessels that are not moving must be capable of navigating in waters. In other words, people who are working on a new vessel that isn’t quite ready to move on waters don’t qualify under general maritime law, but someone who is working on a vessel that can readily go out to see does.
Maritime law is extremely complex and in many instances, seamen are either unsure what they qualify for or sign paperwork that settles their case before they’ve received the benefits they’re entitled to. In other instances, insurance companies and employers may deny workers their compensation and benefits even though they clearly qualify. A maritime lawyer will ensure that the seaman’s rights are protected.
Maritime Injury Lawsuits and Negligence
The majority of maritime lawsuits involve injuries sustained while on the job, whether it be because of an unseaworthy vessel, improper training, and numerous other negligent acts by employers and/or vessel owners that led to accidents and harm. Since land-based regulations don’t apply to those who work on water, federal law covers these types of accidents under general maritime law and the Jones Act.
Maritime workers also qualify for “maintenance and cure” when injured on the job, and much like state worker’s compensation, maintenance and cure benefits should be provided regardless of how the injury happened or who was at fault. Yet, a good majority of cases in which seamen are injured are a result of negligence on behalf of another party, and in these cases, the Jones Act protects workers and can provide damages for:
- Physical pain and suffering
- Emotional and mental anguish
- Lost wages and lost earnings capacity
- Disfigurement (if applicable)
- Medical costs and expenses
In order to qualify for the Jones Act, however, the seaman must establish proof that the injuries occurred because of the negligence of an employer, vessel owner, or another party. Insurance companies will typically fight to prove that the accident happened because of the negligence on the seaman’s part, therefore reducing or eliminating any benefits that the seaman should get. In fact, it’s not surprising that many vessel owners, insurance companies, and employers discourage maritime workers from seeking legal representation. Workers may be asked to sign away their rights and in some cases, their complaints and claims may be completely ignored. However, an experienced maritime attorney understands these tactics and can assist you in understanding your legal options and rights.
How Maritime Lawyers Handle Injury Claims
Once your maritime attorney takes on your case, negotiations begin with either the insurance company or your employment company, or if there are issues dealing with them, your lawyer may go directly into the proceedings of filing a lawsuit in court. Whether your attorney will negotiate with the employer and insurance company or go straight to filing a lawsuit will depend upon how receptive the employer and insurance company. If they are putting off your case and not responding, your attorney may decide to file the lawsuit in order to get your case resolved as soon as possible.
Regardless of how your attorney handles your case, there is no set way to determine how long a settlement will take. In some instances, your case my need to go to trial, especially if your attorney is dealing with an uncooperative employer and insurance company. Most cases, however, will end in a settlement without having to set foot in a courtroom for trial. Yet, even settlement times are difficult to determine as each maritime injury case is different and will depend upon the circumstances surrounding your accident and injuries.
If You’ve Been Injured
One of the most important things to remember if you’ve been injured while at work is to never sign any paperwork before you seek legal assistance. Many maritime workers make the mistake of thinking the insurance companies are their friends and looking out for their bests interests, when in actuality they are signing away their rights to their deserved compensation.
In addition, always report your injuries immediately to your employer, no matter how minor they seem, and seek medical treatment within 7 days. It’s imperative to establish proof of your injuries as soon as possible as it will serve as protection in the event that your claim is denied or ignored.
For more in-depth information regarding seaman rights and compensation when injured, see our article Maritime Rights and Compensation.