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JONES ACT SEAMAN INJURY CLAIMS

The Jones Act imposes a duty upon the seaman's employer to furnish a reasonably safe place for a seaman to work and to use ordinary care under the circumstances to maintain and keep the vessel on which the seaman works in a reasonably safe condition. A relaxed standard of causation applies to the Jones Act. The relaxed standard of causation is satisfied when it is evidenced that the employer’s negligence plays any part, no matter how slight, in producing the seaman's injury. The "slight negligence" necessary to support a claim under the Jones Act is defined as a failure to exercise great care and that burden of proof is much less than the burden required to sustain recovery in ordinary negligence action such as a car accident. 

Employers have been held liable under the Jones Act for injuries caused by various types of unsafe conditions on a vessel, including:

  • improperly maintained equipment

  • equipment failure

  • equipment braking

  • misuse of equipment or tools

  • oil and grease left on deck

  • messy decks or passageways

  • improper storing of equipment and supplies 

  • lack of proper equipment to perform a job or task

  • lack of proper training

  • unsafe work procedures or methods

  • negligence of other crew members

  • assault by other crew members

  • violation of rules and regulations in place for crew member safety

  • sexual assault 

  • sexual harassment

Common injuries suffered by seaman as a result of an employer's failure to furnish a reasonably safe place for a seaman to work and to use ordinary care under the circumstances to maintain and keep the vessel on which the seaman works in a reasonably safe condition, include:

 

  • lacerations

  • contusions

  • broken bones

  • head injury

  • neck injury

  • back injury

  • sprain

  • strain

  • burns

  • brain injury

  • Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and

  • other injuries

Seaman may also recover for their injuries from the owner of the vessel caused by the unseaworthiness of the vessel. The warranty of seaworthiness is a species of liability without fault. To prevail, an employee of a vessel must show that an unseaworthy condition "played a substantial part in bringing about or actually causing the injury and that the injury was either a direct result or reasonably probable consequence of the unseaworthiness." The doctrine of seaworthiness imposes an absolute duty upon the owner of a ship "to furnish a vessel and appurtenances reasonably fit for their intended use. The standard is not perfection, but reasonable fitness; not a ship that will weather every conceivable storm or withstand every imaginable peril of the sea, but a vessel reasonably suited for her intended service."  A vessel owner's actual or constructive knowledge of an unseaworthy condition is not essential to a determination of liability.  Conditions that may render a vessel unseaworthy and expose a vessel owner to liability are similar to those unsafe conditions that impose liability on seaman's employer under the Jones Act, and include:

  • insufficient crew

  • lack of properly trained crew

  • worn out equipment or gear

  • lack of proper safety equipment or gear

  • unsafe gangway 

  • working excessive hours

  • insufficient supervision

  • absence of safety procedures or protocols

  • lack of warning signs

  • excessive working hours

  • violation of United States Coast Guard regulations

 

Additionally, Jones Act seaman have an absolute right to receive Maintenance and Cure if he falls ill or becomes injured while in service of a vessel. "Maintenance" is a seaman's right to food and lodging  and "Cure" is the right to necessary medical services.  A seaman is entitled to these benefits, regardless of who is at fault for causing an injury, until they reach maximum medical improvement. Some employers refuse to pay these benefits, or dispute the amount of benefits the seaman is entitled. In this circumstance the seaman should contact an experienced maritime attorney as soon as possible. 

One of the most important things a seaman can do after being injured aboard a vessel, is to immediately report the injury to their supervisor and the vessel's Captain. The report should be in writing, and the seaman should request that an official accident report be completed and that an entry be made in the official ship's log book. The seaman should also keep their own written account of the injury. If injured while at sea, the seaman should seek medical care onboard and then ashore in the next port. If the vessel is still in port, the seaman should seek medical care ashore before the vessel gets underway. Since medical care might be in a foreign port, make sure to ask for a copy of your medical records before leaving that Doctor's office.  Often, seaman are pressured to get back to work after an injury.  Going back to work too soon may make your injury worse.  Make sure a doctor you trust clears you to return to work before doing so, and there is nothing wrong with getting a second opinion. 

 

If you have been injured while employed aboard a vessel, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries, including past and future medical bills, lost past and future wages, as well as compensation for your physical and mental pain and suffering. Call 813-825-1267 or email me for a confidential consultation and an initial case review with a Jones Act Attorney to discuss your legal rights.