In this webinar, we’ll be discussing the Jones Act and its importance to injured maritime workers, specifically to seamen. In general, the Jones Act provides a few unique benefits not afforded to other injured workers, Jones Act benefits such as:
[0:01]: Hello, today we’re going to talk about “What is the Jones Act? Does it help you and how?” Thank you very much for joining us on this webinar. I’m going to go through some information here. Hopefully, you’re going to find it very helpful.
[0:13]: My name is Tim Young. I’m your host. I’m a maritime attorney in New Orleans, Louisiana. I’ve been practicing for 23, more than 23 years now, handling maritime and Jones Act cases across the Gulf South for injured maritime workers. We have in our office we’ve successfully helped clients with some very major injuries. We’ve dealt with many clients with brain injuries. We’ve seen how this has affected their families and themselves, obviously. We’ve had clients who have suffered major burns while working offshore on platforms or rigs or boats. And most of our clients have had multiple surgeries. Really, we do feel honored to be able to help them through one of the worst and most challenging times of their lives, and generally we get them to the other side where they’re in a much better place. And we really cherish playing that role in their lives.
[1:08]: This is what we’re going to cover in the webinar today. We’re going to go through:
[1:37] First topic here is the Jones Act is a federal statute. It’s an actual federal statute. So when people refer to it as the Jones Act, there is a written law on the books from way back in the 1920s. It basically is a federal law in the United States.
[1:57] It is found at 46 United States code 30104. That’s the beginning of it and it literally says
“A seaman injured in the course of employment or if the seaman dies from the injury, the personal representative of the seaman may elect to bring a civil action at law with the right of trial by jury against the employer. Laws of the United States for personal injury and death to a railway employee applied to an action under this section.”
[2:31]: So what that tells us is two or three things very briefly. First off, it is a seaman. You have to qualify as a seaman, which we’re going to talk about a lot in a second. The second thing is you can actually bring a civil action against your employer and that makes it very different. The third point there is that the laws of the United States relating to railway employees are actually very similar and it’s the same law essentially that applies to seamen on vessels and on boats and maritime workers. That’s kind of interesting, a lot of people don’t know that but those two laws that protect the railway workers are also the same laws that basically protect injured seamen.
[3:17]: The key word is seamen as I mentioned a minute ago. You do not qualify; you do not fall under the Jones Act unless you are what the statute and the law there on the screen defines as a seaman. The Jones Act only applies to seamen. This then gives us the next question, which a lot of our clients say and ask us which is, “Am I a seaman? What is a seaman?”
[3:46]: There’s no written definition in the statute of this. That’s kind of interesting. The statute does go on for several more parts after that, several more sections, but nowhere does it define what they mean by a seaman.
[4:01]: Cases, instead, have defined what it is to fall under the Jones Act, what it means to be a seaman under the Jones Act. And what the cases have told us, and this is the definition of a seaman that the case law has basically come up with over the years, has three main parts. The first part is you have (1) to be more or less permanently (2) assigned to a vessel or fleet of vessels under common control or ownership (3) in navigation.
[4:30]: So those are the three parts to meet the definition of a seaman under the Jones Act. Again, you have to be more or less permanently assigned to a vessel or fleet of vessels under common control or ownership in navigation. We’re going to break these down a little bit for you and this is literally how the law and how the judges when they’re addressing this issue would look at it.
[4:53]: First one is, were you more or less permanently assigned to the vessel? So what potential clients will ask us “Well, what does that mean? How much time does that equate to? And they told me to go work on the boat. I didn’t know how long it was going to be, stayed a few days, not very long…” that kind of stuff is typically how it applies in the real world, how you see it play out in the real world.
[5:19]: What it means is it only means about 30% or more of your time is spent on vessels. So being more or less permanently assigned to a vessel to meet this definition, you do not have to spend 100% of your time on vessels. You don’t have to spend 50% of your time on vessels. There are cases that say once you spend about 30% or more of your time on the vessel, you fall under this definition of a seaman.
[5:50]: The only little caveat to that is this 30% cannot be a very temporary assignment, and the way this plays out in the real world is sometimes people will get permanently reassigned. And we will see this with companies that sometimes have jack-up rigs as well as platforms or non-vessels.
[6:12]: So an individual may be assigned to a vessel like a jack-up or semi-submersible and then they get switched over to a fixed platform permanently, and they’re going to stay on that platform. They’re never going to get off it for the near future. And a lot of times, those people will have trouble becoming a seaman because they’ve essentially left their vessel and they’ve gone and been reassigned somewhere else.
[6:37]: What is the definition of vessel or fleet of vessels? This becomes the next part of the definition that you have to make sure you fall under, and this is pretty simple. This just basically means is it the structure that you’re on practically capable of navigation?
[6:53]: Now, when people think of a vessel or a fleet of vessels, most of them think of tugboats or barges or stuff that we typically think of as traditional vessels, crew boats, supply boats. What it really means is it can be oil rigs, jack-up, oil rigs, semi-submersible oil rigs, can be dredges. It can be work barges that float.
[7:17]: A lot of times, you’ll have people working off of a work barge, and even though it doesn’t have its own propulsion, even though there has no way to get around other than just getting towed and put into different locations, if that work barge is being used and moved from time to time and people are assigned to it, that can absolutely become the vessel under the Jones Act. Many of our clients have been assigned to work on work barges that have never been captains, that have never been deckhands. They basically are workers on the work barge and they still qualify under the Jones Act.
[7:51]: Two things I’ll mention quickly here that are definitely not vessels or fleet of vessels are SPARS, even though the special type of structures out, usually in the Gulf of Mexico, even though they can move around on their anchoring system, so they do navigate a little bit, what the courts have basically said is that those structures are basically fixed in place, and they’re not going to be navigating. They’re typically on the location for years and years and years, and the only time they would ever move is maybe during a hurricane if they evacuated it.
[8:27]: And then fixed platforms. Obviously, these are structures that are stuck into the Gulf of Mexico. The law does not view that as a vessel. The law views that as essentially a little island of Louisiana or Texas off the coast. And it’s a metal structure out there. It’s not a vessel. So if you’re going to be assigned to a vessel, you do have to meet this definition of a vessel under the Jones Act.
[8:51]: What does the Jones Act mean to seamen who qualify? And this is assuming you spend about 30% or more of your time on what qualifies as a vessel. A couple of very important points here, and we read this in the definition itself.
[9:09]: You can file a regular claim in court. You can file with the statute itself called a civil claim. This is NOT a workers-compensation-type claim. Injured seamen do not have what’s called “workers compensation” as we think of it on land. Injured seamen have a different remedy called “maintenance and cure,” but under the Jones Act, you are allowed to file your claim against your company.
[9:38]: You can seek, and this is on the slide now, you can seek all damages that you suffered under the Jones Act. This is pain and suffering. This is lost wages and benefits, past and future medical expenses. This is extremely different from a workers compensation claim where there’s a fixed amount that you get based on the severity of your injury and your medical expenses. You get it but you really can’t get them in the future. You have to kind of get them as they’re as they’re due or when your company has to pay them. This is very different.
[10:11]: Under the Jones Act, all this damage that’s due to you is due at a single time, a single moment in time, this is what a verdict would be rendered in your case. And it’s for all the damage that you suffered looking backward as well as looking forward at that moment when the verdict is rendered. So it’s a total payout due at one time.
[10:35]: To give you a quick example, if you’re injured, you may need money for a surgery in the future of $100,000. Under workers comp, typically you cannot get that check right now. You typically have to wait until you actually need the surgery. It’s recommended two years down the road and then you go back to your company and hope they approve it and all that.
[10:55]: Jones Act is very different. You basically can go into court and say I am going to need a surgery. Here’s a doctor giving testimony that I’ll need surgery in a year or two or three or four even. At some point I’m likely to need it and therefore I want the court and the jury to award it to me now. You can do that with the Jones Act.
[11:14]: Same thing with all of your lost future wages, and this can be a tremendously high amount. If you’re losing 50,000 or 100,000 dollars a year because you cannot earn what you used to earn, they don’t pay that to you each year as it comes by year by year by year.
[11:30]: Under the Jones Act, you go into court and you present testimony from an expert economist. We use these all the time for our clients and you basically explain to the jury “over my lifetime, I will be losing $1,000,000 or $2,000,000 in wages, and because the company injured me, I am due that money right now through this verdict.” So I’m going to ask this jury to give a verdict to me of that much money, and the jury can come back or the judge can come back and give you that all at one time. This is extremely powerful and it really helps.
[12:05]: The Jones Act helps you if you’re an injured seaman. The only caveat here and this is the “but” part of the Jones Act. It is fault-based. The Jones Act is a fault-based statute, meaning you have to show some fault on the part of your employer or co-employees in order to recover.
[12:22]: And that’s the next point there, you only recover under the Jones Act if you prove fault on your employer or co-workers. Now there’s a longer discussion to have about the obligations that your company has to you and how safe they’re supposed to be, and how they’re supposed to do everything correctly out there, even if it’s not their normal way of doing things.
[12:43]: There’s a much longer discussion about how you are protected under the Jones Act and how the company is really supposed to take care of you and how proving fault is not as hard as it might be on land when you get out there on boats and on rigs. But for now just understand that you do have to show some fault on the part of your company in order to recover.
[13:06]: A second point here though is that you can recover even if it’s a percentage of your damages. What this means is you do not have to prove your company was 100% at fault and you didn’t do anything wrong. It is a sliding scale, where if your company is 70% at fault, they will pay you 70% of your total damages. If they’re 50% at fault, they pay you 50%. They can be 20% at fault and you still recover only 20% of your damages.
[13:34]: So this can become very powerful when you go to negotiate your case if you especially have a large, large amount of damages that you’ve suffered. Most of the time, it can add up pretty quickly to get some fair settlement offers, because again if they’re a percentage at fault, they’re going to be paying you that through a verdict.
[13:55]: So what does this mean and what are the practical tips that I can give to you, potentially as to how you take advantage of the Jones Act? What we see, what we recommend to our clients is kind of the best practices.
[14:06]: Well, first thing to remember: that it’s fault-based. We just covered this. So what does that really play out in the real world to mean?
[14:14]: Well, it basically means giving a recorded statement is typically a bad idea. Now you may be watching this after you’ve already given a recorded statement, that’s OK. It doesn’t mean it necessarily ruins your case. You just have to understand that when a key issue in the case is going to be what happened and why did it happen, and did the company or your co-workers do anything wrong, giving a recorded statement where you maybe talked about how nothing wrong happened and how everything was being done like it usually is. A lot of times that can hurt your case.
[14:52]: You know we’ll say very briefly here a lot of our clients do not understand the difference between the way things are usually done at work versus the correct way that things should be done at work. And there’s a big difference there, and there are countless times when we have had experts, safety experts, real seasoned professionals look at a situation and say, “You know, I don’t care if this company did it like this for five years (during which the the our client worked there), they were doing it wrong the whole time.” And a lot of times you know our clients come in and they just don’t know any differently. So they’ll tell us, “Yeah, it’s the way we always did it.”
[15:34]: Well that’s a very different question as to whether it was the right way being it was being done. Generally giving a statement is going to hurt your case. Anybody who’s ever given one will know that they typically will get into what happened, and we didn’t do anything wrong, and we couldn’t have prevented this and this is exactly what they’re going to when they start asking you those questions.
[15:57]: Second point here on the Jones Act and, this is them just being as direct as I can and explaining it to you on why it typically works out this way. Usually, filing a claim in a serious Jones Act case is necessary for a few reasons. We have longer videos online addressing longer webinars online addressing specific issues here but these are some of them, just real broad terms.
[16:23]: You need to prove all of your damages at one time. So when you go into court, there is a certain set date when you need to be able to say, and I usually want to meet with prospective clients or with our clients. I usually kind of visualize it with them, you need to be able to go in with your case in front of you. And you have to have your doctor reports right in front of you. You have to have your witness statements in front of you. You have to have your lost wage reports in front of you.
[16:54]: You have to be able to prove all that damage. You can picture a big stack of papers that your expert reports and everything that happened to you. You have to be able to prove it all at one time, which is basically your trial moment. The time that you go to court to put all that on in front of the judge of the jury.
[17:10]: If you’re not filing something in court, it’s really hard to put all that paperwork together. It’s really hard for you to sit at home in Mississippi or Florida or Louisiana or wherever you’re from and think, “Well, I’m probably going to need surgery. I’m not really sure and maybe I can get a decent job. I’ve heard of some opportunities. Maybe I can go look there.” That’s really just guessing and you’re really not going to know until you sit down and do it right as far as what the actual numbers come out to on paper.
[17:40]:Not only do you have to prove your damages but you also have to show fault, which we talked about. It is impossible, frankly, to get documents from the company. You’re going to have, especially if you were seriously injured, you’re going to have big investigative type reports that were done. You’re going to have co-workers who gave written or even recorded statements, and no company ever gives that to injured maritime workers until they file a claim. Your company is never going to sit down and give the smoking gun document to you and say, “Here’s everything we have. Go ahead and evaluate it and then let’s talk settlement.”
[18:18]: So, what ends up happening in this process is you typically do have to go into court. You have to use the court process and the court tools, the discovery tools, the depositions, the subpoenas, that we can use as attorneys, the experts which we can hire as attorneys. Typically it takes putting all those parts together so that you can really show fault on the part of the company for whatever they did wrong. And you can prove it and that’s a big difference. You may know in your head what happened wrong and you can tell them on the phone to some adjuster but that’s not going to get his attention honestly. What gets their attention is when you have it all laid out. You have a paper trail and you have your witnesses ready to go.
[19:00]: And that brings us to the last point here, which is generally when you’re dealing with large serious claims which is the majority of what we deal with, the company is not going to be offering the best offer until the court date is set and it’s usually approaching pretty closely. And that’s when they get serious. And that’s because of what I mentioned up above and number one and number two.
[19:21]: At this point, you’re able to prove your damages. You’ve got medical tests that are done. We will typically pay for doctors to see our clients if necessary. We’ll pay for testing to be done just to see if there is anything wrong, what is it, how bad is it. And then we’ll also hire the experts and we’ll get the reports to figure out what happened and why it happened. And all that makes a tremendous difference as far as getting a fair settlement for you after you get hurt as an injured maritime worker when the Jones Act applies to you.
[19:56]: So some final thoughts here. Hopefully this webinar has been really helpful for you. First off, we’ve got a worksheet with some ideas, a little summary or worksheet here that you can download that’ll give you some ideas on slides you just saw.
[20:08]: Second point is I really invite you to call us if you have any questions at all. We speak to a lot of people throughout the year, a lot of injured maritime workers frankly on a weekly basis and we’re happy to talk with you about anything that happened to you if you have questions. It’s a really complicated area of law, again, and we’ve been doing this for more than 23 years. This is the only type of work that our law firm handles, so we really tend to focus on these cases. And I thank you for joining us for this webinar. Let me know if you have any questions at all about your particular situation.
At The Young Firm, we are 100% focused on Jones Act and maritime injury law cases, and we understand claims like yours because we have handled so many of them. As Jones Act lawyers, we are well aware of the specific requirements that you, as a victim of a maritime accident, have, and we can help you recover your lost benefits and get you compensation for damages.
Schedule your free consultation today! If you have questions about maritime injuries and how to receive fair compensation, contact a lawyer from The Young Firm at 504-680-4100.
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