Maritime workers face risks and dangers that differ from those faced by onshore employees. The law recognizes these differences, and offers remedies other than worker’s compensation to maritime workers who are injured or who suffer illnesses as a result of their work related duties.
Maritime law and unseaworthiness claims
Any maritime worker faced with an illness or injury while working on a vessel is entitled to maintenance and cure. Maintenance includes money to cover the seaman’s costs of living. This includes food, rent or mortgage payments, property taxes, and utilities. Cure refers to medical care necessary to treat the injury suffered by the individual. Maintenance and cure only apply to the most basic necessities. Even things such as car payments, and phone bills are likely excluded from this form of compensation.
Maritime workers can collect maintenance and cure until they reach maximum medical improvement, which is the point when they have recovered as much as they are expected to. This means the aid ceases even if the individual does not reach the level of health they had prior to the incident, or illness.
By dictating that ship owners have a duty to provide seamen a seaworthy vessel, general maritime law also creates the ability for maritime workers to file claims for unseaworthiness. This duty is absolute and non-delegable. If a seaman who is employed on the vessel is injured on that vessel while it is in navigation and the injury is the result of a part of the vessel or the vessel’s equipment not being in adequate condition to perform the function it is meant to, then the seaman has a claim against the owner of the vessel. The owner did not have to be negligent, or even have to know about the condition. The fact that the unacceptable condition existed is all that is necessary, and these claims offer some of the largest remedies to injured seamen and their families.
In addition to general maritime law, the Jones Act, and the Longshore and Harbor Worker’s Compensation Act provide other remedies to qualifying maritime workers.
The Jones Act
The Jones Act allows for negligence claims to be made against an injured seaman’s employer. Unlike typical negligence claims, the seaman must only prove that the employer’s negligence played a slight part in the injury. It is therefore easier to prove, and easier to recover damages than in an onshore negligence claim.
The law applies specifically to the individuals who can qualify as “seamen” under the act. The definition of seamen is not included in the act itself though, so a court is left to determine whether an employee qualifies.
To qualify as a seaman, the worker must contribute to the work of a vessel that is afloat on navigable waters. Navigable waters are those that can be used for international or interstate commerce. The employee must also spend a significant amount of his or her employment time on the vessel, or on vessels that are owned by the employer. This issue can end up being somewhat complicated, but a rule of thumb often used is that 30% of the worker’s employment time should be spent on the vessel.
Unlike maintenance and cure, the damages available from a Jones Act claim are not limited to basic medical expenses and room and board. The damages can include the individual’s lost earnings, lost earning capacity, medical expenses, including future projected medical expenses, as well as damages for the pain and suffering that resulted from the injury or illness. These damages tend to be much higher than those available from maintenance and cure, though an unseaworthiness claim might be comparable.
Longshore and Harbor Worker’s Compensation Claims
The Longshore and Harbor Worker’s Compensation Act (Longshore Act) protects those maritime workers who are not crewmembers of a vessel, and who do not qualify as seamen. In addition to the obvious, longshoremen, the Longshore Act covers shipbuilders, shipbreakers, harbor-workers and ship repairmen, among others. Like other worker’s compensation programs, the Longshore Act does not rely on the fault of the employer. Longshore Act claims tend to have higher compensation benefits than do onshore worker’s compensation claims. They also allow for individuals to choose their own doctors, and can provide lifetime medical treatment related to the injury, unlike some state worker’s compensation programs.
Maritime Law Attorneys
Maritime law is complex, and unlike onshore worker’s compensation claims, maritime law has various different ways for injured employees to be compensated if they suffer from an on the job injury or illness. If you are a maritime worker who was injured on the job, you should contact an attorney to discuss the facts specific to your case, and to determine the best course of action for you.
Contact Stern Law, PLLC for A Free Consultation
At Stern Law, PLLC, we have compassionate and caring attorneys ready to work with you in order to find the best strategy for seeking compensation for your maritime employment related injuries. Contact Stern Law, PLLC today at (844) 808-7529 for a free consolation with an experienced attorney.