If offshore workers are injured as a result of their employer’s negligence, they are covered by various laws, including the Jones Act, the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA), and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA). These federal acts give offshore workers the right to sue negligent employers for compensation. Offshore injury lawsuits may be complex, but they can potentially help an injured maritime worker to receive a measure of justice and financial security.
Requirements to File an Offshore Injury Lawsuit
Filing an offshore injury lawsuit involves a maze of different laws which are determined by the injured worker’s occupation and place of work. Some workers may be covered by the Jones Act, while others may have to file lawsuits per the the requirements of the LHWCA and OCSLA.
Although there are variations between the Jones Act, LHWCA, and OCSLA, they usually follow principles set in admiralty or maritime law. Generally, a plaintiff’s burden of proof in an offshore case is lower than that of a standard personal injury lawsuit. For instance, crewmen on jack-up rigs and other mobile extraction vessels are covered by the Jones Act’s featherweight causality rules. Under this legal concept, employers are still at fault even if the worker contributed in some fashion to the accident which caused the injury.
For offshore workers covered by the Jones Act, the level of the defendants’ responsibility compared to the injured worker’s only affects the final amount of compensation, not the legal issue of who was at fault.
Whether you are a seaman, longshore worker, or offshore maritime worker, you must meet federal guidelines for your specific job before you can file a offshore injury lawsuit. If you are not sure under which law to file your suit, consult a maritime injury attorney.
Starting the Offshore Injury Lawsuit Process
Your attorney will start the process of filing an offshore injury lawsuit by filing legal documents known as “pleadings.” Normally, the first pleading is called a complaint (or petition). Complaints identify the plaintiffs and defendants in the case, state the reasons as to why the court has jurisdiction over the issues, present the plaintiff’s claims, and give a brief rundown of the facts at the core of the claims. Complaints include “demand of judgement” sections in which the plaintiff’s usually ask the court to require certain actions from the defendant, such as paying compensation for a work-related injury.
Complaints are usually short and do not include every fact behind the case. They are intended to let a defendant know the facts and legal background of the plaintiff’s claims.
Once your attorney has filed the complaint, the court will issue a document called a summons. A summons officially starts the lawsuit and informs a defendant that he or she is being sued. It also states the court’s authority to hear and preside over the offshore injury case. The summons also orders a defendant to appear in court on a specific date and reply to your offshore injury complaint. A summons is sent to the defendant along with a copy of the complaint your lawyer filed. This is known as “service of process.”
When the defendant has officially been served, he or she must submit a document called an “answer.” Answers are formal written statements that admit or deny the claims in your complaint. Sometimes, answers include affirmative defense statements and motions to dismiss your offshore injury claim. Generally, answers must be submitted no later than 20 days after a summons is filed. However, each jurisdiction has its own rules regarding filing times.
Settlement or Trial
Offshore injury cases are often more complicated than most personal injury cases. You and your attorney must first focus on your medical recovery and be aware of your physical condition. At the same time, your attorney must gather all the necessary documentation about your offshore injury while preparing for an assertive defense from the defendants’ legal team.
Because offshore injury cases are complex and can take a long time to sort out, most of them result in a settlement. Occasionally, however, employers choose to fight injured maritime workers’ claims in court in order to deny any amount of responsibility and not pay any compensation.
Settlements are the most common outcomes in offshore injury lawsuits, especially in cases where the evidence clearly points to an employer’s negligence. Defense lawyers know that if your attorney has prepared your offshore injury case well, they run a risk of losing at trial and prefer to settle instead. Settling before trial is often less expensive for the employers, especially in maritime injury cases where the range of court awards can be high.
In cases where the facts of the case are not easy to determine or if the defendant’s lawyers believe your offshore injury claim is weak, they may choose to go to trial. This is your employer’s most risky option because the defense can still lose and will have to pay a large court-set award. However, if the defense wins at trial, your employer avoids paying any compensation and legally absolved of any responsibility for your offshore accident-related injuries.
What You Can Expect if You Win Your Offshore Injury Lawsuit
Because offshore injury cases are not all alike, there is no one-size-fits-all set of expectations if you win your lawsuit either by settling out of court or as a result of a trial victory. However, there are some general expectations for positive outcomes in cases such as yours.
If you win your offshore injury lawsuit, you may receive financial compensation for:
- Medical costs and expenses, including surgery, rehabilitation, medication, medical supplies, and more
- Lost wages
- Lost earnings capacity
- Past and future economic loss
- Mental and emotional trauma
- Physical pain and suffering
- Permanent disfigurement (if applicable), including loss of limbs, eye loss and/or hearing loss
Additional Information on Offshore Injuries and U.S. Maritime Laws
For more information regarding offshore injury lawsuits and the various related U.S. maritime laws, we invite you to fill out our form today for a complimentary Maritime Injury Guide. Each guide contains relevant material about offshore injuries and lawsuits, including details about your legal rights and options if you’ve been injured while working on an offshore facility or industrial vessel.