MARITIME LAW, THE JONES ACT, AND LONGSHOREMEN
Defending your rights under Maritime Law can be complicated, and you need an experienced attorney who understands the complexities of the law and the specific details of your case.
All Maritime cases share a location: they involve any injury on or near the water. But specific statutes and acts, as well as precedents set by case law, define who is entitled to compensation.
For example, an injured person is generally defined in Maritime Law as either a Jones Act Seaman or a Longshoreman.
But the remedy afforded to each is vastly different.
Longshoremen are limited to a portion of their lost wages and full medical treatment for injuries caused by an accident. By contrast, a Jones Act Seaman is entitled to lost wages, pain and suffering, medical expenses, mental and emotional pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and expenses.
As you can see, the law provides greater relief to a Jones Act Seaman than a Longshoreman.
But Maritime Law does not always clearly distinguish a Seaman from a Longshoreman. Similar issues arise when defining a “vessel” subject to these laws.
Instead, these critical descisions are left to the discretion of the courts and your attorney’s knowledge and skill in the courtroom.
Keep in mind that it is not necessary that the injured person be a sailor to qualify as a Seaman. Anyone who contributes to the mission of the vessel is a Seaman, including engineers, drillers, cooks, bartenders, and stewards.
Even workers who perform their duties on both land and sea may qualify as Seamen. Welders, food caterers, divers, ship repairmen, cooks, crane operators, and electricians can qualify as Seamen, depending on the facts of the case.
And while examples of a vessel include crew boats, supply boats, crab or shrimp boats, cargo ships, barges, jack-up rigs, jet-skis, air-boats, surface drives, and other pleasure or recreational boats, only an attorney with expertise in Maritime Law can evaluate the circumstances of your accident and measure them against previous decisions of the court.
To add even greater challenges, Jones Act cases and Longshoreman claims differ legally in terms of the responsible party as well.
Jones Act Seamen bring their cases against the owner of the ship. To demonstrate a claim under the Jones Act, the plaintiff need only prove that the employer's negligence played any part, however small, in the plaintiff's injuries. And while that may seem like a very light burden of proof, the marine industry fights these claims ferociously.
Longshoreman claims are also brought against the employer, but in a more limited capacity similar to state workers' compensation. Longshoreman are entitled to medical care to treat their injuries and to a portion of their lost wages till they recover. These claims are filed under the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act (LHWCA) and tried before Administrative Law Judges under the supervision of the Office of Administrative Law Judges.
Longshoremen also possess an additional remedy pursuant to Section 905(b) of the LHWCA, offering an exception to the rule forbidding an employee from suing his employer. An employee may file a traditional tort lawsuit against his employer “in its capacity as a vessel owner” if both of the following are true:
The employer was also the owner and operator of a vessel on which the employee was injured; and
The injury was caused by your employer’s negligence “in its capacity” as the vessel owner.
Pursuing a 905(b) claim against your employer does not affect your other benefits under the LHWCA.
Jones Act Seaman and Longshoreman workers can also bring a negligence claim against parties other than their employer. Previous such cases have involved helicopter crashes, defective welds, frayed lines, crane collapses, ship collisions, explosions, and untrained crane operators.
The only way to know if you are entitled to compensation as a Jones Act Seaman or Longshoreman is to consult an experienced attorney like Michael L. Hebert.