Maritime arbitration is an alternative to taking your injury claim to court. Whether you are a seaman, an oil rig worker, or a longshoreman, applicable federal law will generally give you the right to pursue compensation in court. But when you submit your maritime injury claim to arbitration, you almost always waive this right. Depending on the case, choosing arbitration could reduce the amount of compensation you receive for your injury. For these reasons, you should speak with an experienced Houston maritime injury lawyer before agreeing to the arbitration of your claim.
To schedule a free, no-risk consultation with The Krist Law Firm, P.C., call us at (281) 283-8500 or submit a request via our online form.
What Exactly Is Maritime Arbitration?
Arbitration is a type of alternative dispute resolution, or ADR, which is a more informal process of solving a claim than taking the case to court. There is no judge or jury, and the parties do not need to follow the strict procedures that apply to litigation. Instead, arbitration cases are adjudicated by one or more arbitrators who hear evidence, decide facts, and determine potential compensation.
This outcome of arbitration may or may not be binding. If the arbitration is binding, the arbitrator’s decision is final and you will not be able to take your claim to court if you are dissatisfied with the result. If the arbitration is nonbinding, you will retain your right to go to court. In the majority of maritime injury cases, however, arbitration is binding.
Think Carefully About Signing Away Your Right to Go to Court
The Jones Act guarantees a sailor’s right to a trial after an injury and most injured sailors use this protection to maximize their compensation. Although ship operators rarely include arbitration clauses into seamen’s’ employment contracts, they sometimes ask injured sailors to sign an arbitration agreement immediately following an accident. Courts generally enforce these arbitration agreements, which effectively precludes an injured person from taking the case to trial.
When a sailor gets injured, they are automatically entitled to maintenance and cure benefits–a category of compensation that is independent of your maritime injury claim. These maintenance and cure payments are relatively small, and generally insufficient for a sailor to support themselves and their family while waiting for a claim to be settled. Unscrupulous maritime employers sometimes offer an upfront settlement if they agree to sign an arbitration agreement.
Even if you need money now, it might not be in your interest to commit to maritime arbitration. Your employer might persuade you to agree to participate because it significantly accelerates the compensation process, but this is not necessarily true. According to a study by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services, the average arbitration case lasts 475 days. Maritime injury cases that go through the courts take an average of 540 days–an average difference of only 65 days.
How an Experienced Maritime Injury Lawyer Can Help
If you refuse to go through arbitration and pursue your claim with the assistance of an attorney, you will likely be able to increase your compensation. If your employer does not offer you an acceptable settlement, your legal team can take the case to court and fight for your interests.
In any event, a maritime employer’s first injury settlement offer is generally not their best. Think carefully before accepting. If you’re wondering about the best way to get compensation for a maritime injury, call a Houston maritime injury lawyer from The Krist Law Firm, P.C. at (281) 283-8500 for a free case consultation.