Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Under the Jones Act

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects a little over 5 million people in any given year, according to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). In the United States alone, 58 out of every 100,000 people experience PTSD. Under the Jones Act and general maritime law, maritime workers who suffer from PTSD and depression are entitled to file for damages against their employer if the disabilities occurred because of negligence and carelessness.

What is PTSD?

Per the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), PTSD is a disorder triggered by one or more traumatic events. While it’s natural and expected for people to have fear and/or stress in dangerous situations, PTSD differs in that fear and stress remain well after the danger is no longer present. Although PTSD is often thought of as something only war veterans experience, it can happen to anyone who has experienced a traumatic event, including seamen who have been injured while on the job.

Seamen may develop PTSD after any number of traumatic work injuries. For instance, a seaman may fall overboard on an unseaworthy vessel and witness other crew members drowning. Another situation may include losing a limb while working around defective machinery. Depression usually follows severe accidents, especially if the injury results in the inability to carry out previous work. In many instances, the situation is so traumatic that it may take a lifetime of therapy of rehabilitation, and in fact may be more damaging than a physical injury. Seamen who experience extreme physical injuries may replay the event in their mind over and over, causing excessive emotional turmoil.

Qualifications for PTSD and Jones Act Lawsuits

Typically, in order to qualify for a PTSD lawsuit under the Jones Act, seamen must exhibit at least one of the following:

  • Chronic, recurring thoughts of the traumatic event
  • Symptoms that may include insomnia, nightmares, and night sweats
  • Symptoms must last longer than three months
  • Generalised anxiety with either hyperactivity, chronic irrational fears, recurrent panic attacks, or hypervigilance
  • Disruption of daily living activities because of the aforementioned symptoms

Commercial Fishermen and PTSD

According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), over 150 out of 100,000 deaths occurred in the fishing industry alone during 1992-2008. The injury rate for those in the fishing industry is higher than the average injuries in most other industries,  and can include a multitude of traumas, including chemical burns, brain damage, lost limbs, amputations, and more. As mentioned earlier, it many circumstances, the emotional impact of these injuries can be far more severe than the physical impact. Workers may go through a series of emotional issues after their physical injuries, including:

  • Irritability and anger
  • Severe depression
  • Isolation
  • Inability to maintain a job
  • Violence
  • Recurrent flashbacks
  • Avoidance of crowds and certain situations
  • Negative feelings and beliefs
  • Home life disruption
  • Jittery and sensitive to sudden noises

Rights for Maritime Workers

PTSD is covered under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act. As mentioned earlier, seamen are also protected under the Jones Act if the employer’s negligence contributed to the injuries that caused PTSD. For more information on your legal rights and what you may be entitled to, it’s recommended to seek legal representation as soon as possible. PTSD cases are extremely intricate and may require a series of documentations, tests, and other forms of proof in order to establish your case.