When sailors, seamen, and offshore oil and gas workers head out to sea, they face all sorts of dangers—rough weather and sea conditions, careless coworkers, and physical and sexual assault. These workers are not covered by traditional workers’ compensation insurance policies. Instead, the Jones Act, a federal law, provides seamen who are injured on the job with the opportunity to sue their employers for compensation based on negligence.
A seaman who wishes to pursue compensation from their employer after suffering a work-related injury should talk with an experienced maritime lawyer about proving employer negligence under the Jones Act. This is a slightly different process than a non-work-related personal injury claim. A maritime employer’s negligence does not have to be the main cause of the seamen’s injury, only one of the causes.
In regard to the maritime industry and the Jones Act, a maritime employer is required to provide seamen with a reasonably safe work environment and to use ordinary care to keep the vessel in a reasonably safe condition.
In general, negligence is defined as a party failing to act a reasonably prudent person would under the same circumstances. If a maritime employer, or one of its employees, officers, or agents, acts in a way that does not uphold the standard above, or fails to act in a way that is necessary to uphold this standard, then they are negligent.
Negligence by a maritime employer can be a specific inappropriate action. For example, an employer may provide workers with equipment that is old, rarely inspected, has been poorly maintained, and may be defective.
Negligence may not be a specifically careless action. Instead, negligence can be a failure to act. For example, a worker may notice spilled grease on the deck of the vessel. The reasonable thing to do would be to clean the area as soon as possible. Ignoring the condition is negligence.
A Lower Standard of Causation
When an injured seaman brings a Jones Act claim, they have a lower burden than in a typical personal injury claim. They must establish that their employer was negligent. But this negligence does not have to be the only or main cause of their injuries.
When someone files a personal injury claim based on negligence, they must prove the other party’s negligence was the direct and proximate cause of their injury. In other words, the defendant’s negligence must be the majority cause of their injury. There may be other factors involved, but these must have contributed far less to the plaintiff’s injuries.
This is not the case for maritime employer negligence under the Jones Act. An injured seaman only has to prove that their employer’s negligence played some part, no matter how small or slight, in causing their injuries. This is sometimes called featherweight causation. If a court could find that the maritime employer was at least 1% at fault for the seaman’s injuries, then the seaman can collect compensation under the Jones Act.
Seaworthiness Under the Jones Act
Following a maritime incident, an injured seaman may have a negligence claim against the vessel owner, who may be their employer or a different entity.
Vessel owners are required to provide seaworthy vessels. This does not mean a vessel only needs to float and be in operating condition. This standard means the ship, equipment, and crew must all be reasonably adequate to perform their intended functions and operate the ship.
A vessel may be unseaworthy if it is not a reasonably safe working environment for the seamen. It may be unseaworthy if the vessel is in good repair, but the equipment provided is not. Unseaworthiness can arise when a vessel has an inadequate crew, either in regard to numbers, training, or experience. One or more crew members with a history of committing physically or sexually violent acts can also lead to unseaworthiness.
Anything that makes a vessel a potentially dangerous place to work can make the vessel unseaworthy under maritime law.
An injured seaman can seek compensation from a ship owner by proving unseaworthiness. The seaman must establish that some aspect of the vessel, equipment, or crew was not reasonably adequate for its intended purpose.
Pursuing Compensation Under the Jones Act
Anytime a sailor, seaman, or offshore worker is injured while working, they should talk with a Houston maritime lawyer about their rights and options. If their employer—or coworker’s—negligence played any part in their injury, then they may have a claim for compensation under the Jones Act.
Our experienced attorneys at The Krist Law Firm, P.C. thoroughly investigate maritime accidents to identify employer negligence or unseaworthiness. When we find evidence of either issue, we aggressively pursue compensation for the maritime workers’ medical expenses, pain and suffering, daily expenses while recovering, and vocational training.