Maritime Law and Admiralty Law Protect Injured Workers
What laws apply to your maritime injury and accident? What do all those laws really say and how do they protect you? These are all legitimate questions and concerns shared by many injured maritime workers. We explain maritime laws to our clients in simple language. Fortunately, these laws protect injured workers and can help you answer these questions and get your life back together. Here’s what that means to you after you get hurt working on a vessel or offshore.
Maritime Law and Jones Act Law Overview
Maritime Law: This typically concerns non-employers of a vessel or structure who become injured on navigable waters. It can include people such as passengers on a cruise ship, third parties, offshore workers, etc.
Jones Act Law: This only applies to employees who are considered seamen. Note that in order to be referenced as a seaman, your time working on a vessel in navigation needs to be 30% or more.
What’s the Difference Between Admiralty and Maritime Law? Truthfully, there’s little difference between the two terms and generally, they cover many of the same things. Our article goes into more depth on the differences between admiralty and maritime law.
Types of Law that Apply After a Maritime Injury
General maritime law governs a wide variety of activities related to the maritime industry, including protecting workers who get injured while on the job. The following are laws that fall under general maritime law:
- Maintenance and cure
- Death on the High Seas Act
- Jones Act
- Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA)
General maritime law
General maritime law is a judge-made law, rather than a statute like the Jones Act. Judge-made laws (also known as case laws) are created when a judge makes a new ruling and sets a precedent for future cases, essentially creating a new law. For it to apply, your accident and work have to meet a ‘situs and status’ test. It’s often called just ‘maritime law’ and has a few very important aspects that may help you after your accident.
In its most basic form, general maritime law gives you the right to file a claim against any party, other than your employer, for their fault in causing your accident. (A claim against your employer is brought under the Jones Act).
A person is considered liable for all damages caused by their negligence. In other words, they are responsible for not doing what a “reasonable” person would have done under the same conditions. This is called the “reasonable person test” and it is used in most state-based claims. Proving negligence under maritime law involves convincing a judge and/or jury that the defendant failed to take action that should have been taken, or by proving that the defendant did not apply proper safety measures. To recover damages in a maritime law case, you must prove this negligence. Under maritime law, there is also comparative negligence, which essentially means that both the employer and the injured worker could be proven negligent and partially responsible for the accident.
Under maritime law, employers are obligated to provide you with a ‘seaworthy’ vessel on which to work. This means the vessel owner needs to make sure all the vessel equipment is operating properly and is ‘reasonably fit for its intended use’.
Maintenance and cure law requires that your employer provide you with certain benefits after a maritime injury at work.
First, according to maintenance and cure laws, your employer is required to cover your reasonable medical costs from a doctor you select. This is referred to as “cure.” Cure does not require that the company choose your doctor, but it does have some limits on the types of treatment your company has to pay for.
Secondly, your employer must provide you a daily living stipend until you are released from doctor’s care. This is the “maintenance” portion of the law. Once you’ve reached ‘maximum improvement,’ your employer no longer has to cover your living expenses or medical costs. Maintenance is usually paid at a very low rate, and you may also get what companies call ‘advances’ each month with your maintenance checks. There are many dangers to these ‘advances’ so be careful if you are receiving them. There are certain things you can do to raise your maintenance amounts, too. If your company refuses to provide you with maintenance and cure, then you’re allowed to file a maintenance and cure claim against your company. Before filing a claim though, there are a few things you can do to fight denied maintenance and cure benefits.
The Death on the High Seas Act is a federal statute that covers many cases when maritime workers die at sea. It is a very restrictive law, greatly limiting what can be recovered after your death. But for DOHSA to apply certain factors have to be met, and if they are not met, then you can avoid DOHSA.
The Jones Act is a Federal statute passed by Congress in 1921 that provides you with excellent rights if you were working as a ‘seaman’ at the time of your injury. The word ‘seaman’ has a special meaning under the Jones Act. You file a claim under the Jones Act against your employer. The law itself says that your company has to give you a safe place to work, properly train you, properly supervise you, and, in general, watch out for your safety. If one of your co-workers causes your accident, that claim also falls under the Jones Act since your company is legally responsible for their actions while at work.
One of the biggest advantages under the Jones Act is that you can seek recovery of any damages you suffered due to your company’s negligence. If they caused your accident or could have prevented it and didn’t, they owe you compensation. And your recovery under the Jones Act includes pain and suffering, any money or wage losses you suffered or will suffer, and all medical costs, past and future.
The Jones Act does allow your company to reduce what they pay you based on any role you played in causing your own accident. This is known as comparative fault, but there are lots of ways to avoid having a large amount of blame wrongfully placed on you for your accident.
The LHWCA is a federal law that provides workers disabled/injured on navigable waters the option for compensation. Jones Act seamen are not covered under LHWCA, however, the following are the kind of workers that the LHWCA applies to:
- longshore workers,
- harbor construction workers, and
- workers who unload or load vessels.
The U.S. Department of Labor goes into greater detail on how you should report an injury in order to qualify for LHWCA benefits.
Remember that all of these laws can work together to protect your rights and livelihood after an injury. The more you understand how these laws affect you, the easier it will be for you to make smart decisions about your future. Contact us if you have any questions about which laws apply to you.
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