Claims filed under the Jones Act are very, very different than everyday automobile accident cases and slip and fall lawsuits. I don’t just mean from the standpoint of the laws that apply. Sure, the laws are different and special laws apply under the Jones Act and in maritime claims. If your attorney doesn’t know the law that applies, then he can’t even begin to help you. But do you know the real difference between Jones Act claims and everyday lawsuits; a difference that makes Jones Act cases so special to the injured worker.
The Jones Act allows an injured employee to fill a suit for negligence and damages directly against their employer. Let me repeat that. The injured worker is filling suit directly against his employer. This is a whole different type of case than simply filing against an unknown automobile insurance company or a negligent driver that you may never see again. When you file suit under the Jones Act, you are making the tough decision to put your job on the line. In almost all cases, you will need to stop working for your company once the suit is filed. With this is mind, why would anyone file such a suit; a suit that surely means they will lose their current job and by out of work for a period of time.
The best reason to file suit under the Jones Act is to protect your future. This may sound odd knowing that you may lose your job when you file suit-how could you be protecting your future if it will cost you your job? The Jones Act allows an injured worker to receive complete, full damages for any injury that was caused by their employer. This includes loss of past and future wages and fringe benefits. Let’s consider what happens when two workers approach a serious offshore injury differently.
One injured maritime worker is scared to file suit. In fact, he is told of a ‘black list’ and doesn’t even speak to an attorney. He visits with the company doctor after he is hurt. He has one or two tests run and the doctor assures him the tests are normal…”for a person his age.” He is then released to return to work. Once back at work he finds it hard to perform the heavy work. He ‘sticks it out’ but finally needs to come in early. When he phones the company representative to see about getting medical treatment, he is told that ‘the doctor’ released him months ago so the company cannot approve a doctor for him. The company representative also tells the worker that he spoke to his tool pusher and co-workers and they all said that he returned to full duty work for months and he did not appear to have any medical problems.
The other injured worker is concerned for his future after he suffers a serious injury. Instead of allowing the company to control his future, he immediately speaks to a maritime lawyer. He is informed of his rights including the right to see a doctor of his choice and the right to collect lost wages and pain and suffering damages for the company’s fault. His attorney arranges for specialized medical treatment including MRIs which show a lower back injury. Suit is filed and the company is allowed to have the worker seen ONE TIME by a doctor they choose, just for a single examination. When the case goes to court, the company realizes that they are up against a well prepared case that (1) proves the worker was injured immediately after the accident, and (2) they have no evidence that the worker could return to work. Faced with such a tough case, the company offers a fair settlement.
While I agree it is very unfair to punish the injured worker who attempts to return to work after being injured, I can only state what we see on a daily basis at our law firm. Unfortunately doing what you think may be the right thing can sometimes hurt your future.