Seamen who are injured while working on a vessel are entitled to file a lawsuit against their employer if the injury was a result of negligence or unseaworthiness. The Jones Act has provisions to cover financial damages caused by the seaman’s on-the-job injury, including lost wages and lost earning capacity. These wage-related issues are important to injured seaman because if they are not able to work while convalescing from injuries, they are unable to earn a living until they are physically and psychologically fit to work.
Under the Jones Act, lost wages are referred to as lost earnings. Lost earnings include wages and benefits the seaman has already lost as a result of a work-related injury, as well as wages that the seaman continues to lose. In addition, lost earnings cover wages that seamen will lose until they can work again.
Maritime law allows seamen to earn the amount of pay and benefits they would have received under contract at the time of the injuries. The dollar value of lost earnings they are entitled to depends on how much time was left under the terms of the employment contract. If, for instance, the work contract was for two years’ service and the injury occurred a year into that span of time, the seaman is entitled to all of the wages and benefits that would have been earned for the remaining year. In cases of seasonal employment where there are no fixed contracts, such as temporary lobster harvesters or commercial fishermen, the Jones Act gives these workers similar entitlements.
Lost Future Earnings and Lost Earning Capacity
In addition to earnings lost in the past and the present, injured seamen may be entitled to sue for the wages they expected to earn in the future if they had not been hurt. In maritime law, there are two related sets of calculations: lost future earnings and lost earning capacity.
The concept of lost future earnings is used to calculate how much would have earned in salary and benefits if they had not been injured in a work-related accident. It’s harder to determine lost future earnings than actual lost earnings because of the amount of variables involved. In the case of the former, the amount of salary and benefits are already known. But figuring out what someone would have earned over time is more complex, and typically includes the following:
- Recovery Expectations: Recovery of the injuries will be assessed thoroughly when figuring lost future earnings, including what can be realistically expected once the seaman is able to return to work.
- Analysis of Potential Future Promotions and Pay Increases: This area covers what the seaman could have reasonably expected as far as increase in pay and/or future promotions.
- Work Life Expectancy: This is an estimate of how long seamen would have worked if they had not been injured. Calculating work life expectancy involves statistical studies regarding gender, age, race, educational background and how those factors determine the average work life expectancy.