As the United States faced the grim reality of World War I, the Jones Act of 1920 was created to protect and regulate shipping in the United States. In this Act, ships transporting between U.S. ports were required to be built and registered in the U.S., have a majority of their crew be U.S. citizens, and be owned by companies based in the U.S., with U.S. citizens owning over 75% of the ownership stakes.
Purpose of the Jones Act
A primary goal of the Jones Act is to nurture the American seafaring industry so that it is ready for mobilization to act in national emergencies, and for national defense. Most of the supplies and equipment for the United States are transported by ships, and many feel that this Act’s protection ensures a strong group of merchant sailors will be ready in times of war, providing capable individuals to man government vessels for sealift, bolstering national security.
In addition to military preparedness, the Jones Act was established to protect domestic commerce. Products such as grains, corn, and soybeans, food, fertilizer, equipment and machinery, and crude oils are shipped through the area of Galveston Bay, just south of Houston.
The Port of Houston has ranked as the largest intermodal container port on the Gulf Coast, driving economics in Houston, Texas, and the United States. It sees exports of petroleum and petroleum products, resins and plastics, and automotive items; and, imports of various items fuel the retail economy.
Protections Available for Maritime Workers Under the Jones Act
Facing grueling challenges daily requires attentiveness, quick thinking skills, and the ability to maneuver complicated systems and machinery. If an experienced and high paid seaman is injured on the job, these crucial occupational skills may be temporarily or permanently damaged, affecting the earning capacity of the victim for a time or even forever.
Offshore workers, particularly, may face confusion about coverage after an injury, making an already overwhelming situation more complicated and more stressful. The type of work and where you are when an injury occurs play a significant role in an individual’s compensation after an offshore accident. A maritime injury attorney can work with injury victims to discuss what type of coverage they qualify for.
Who The Jones Act Covers
If your job description is a seaman and you are injured during work while on a vessel that is in navigation, then the Jones Act will apply to you. This Act will apply to workers employed on offshore vessels and most individuals working on ships that navigate inshore waters performing work with the goal of maritime commerce. These individuals can include:
- Able Bodied Seamen
Their work must connect them to a specific vessel or fleet under common ownership. They serve as part of the ship’s functioning body or mission with work relating to the vessel’s navigation, operation, and / or maintenance. Their work will generally require them to spend at least 30% of their work hours onboard the vessel.
The Jones Act generally does not cover workers working on fixed rigs or platforms or workers whose jobs are based at docks or shipyards, who on occasion go on board a vessel. However, these workers may have the ability to file a third-party case against a party other than their own employer to recover additional financial compensation for their work-related injuries.
Legal Impact of the Jones Act
Injured workers will be forced to interact with the insurance company in addition to or even instead of their employer, making navigating the offshore injury claim process challenging. The applicable insurance does not influence your legal rights, allowing you to receive maintenance and cure benefits until you have reached maximum medical improvement or complete recovery.
Also, if your injuries occurred due to unseaworthiness, your rights to file a lawsuit for negligence under the Jones Act remain intact.
Seamen who are injured while working are allowed a specific compensation amount as a daily living allowance to cover basic needs until the completion of medical recovery. This benefit is called “maintenance,” and it is granted whether or not the employer was responsible for the offshore injuries. These needs include food, utilities, clothing, and transportation.
Cure Payments for Maritime Injuries
Medical expenses that result from work injuries are covered by “cure” payments and should be compensated by the employer. These expenses can be any bills associated with the hospital stay and doctor’s visits, medications, testing and surgeries, medical equipment, and transportation for medical appointments.
Transportation and Wages
When seamen are injured during navigation, it often requires them to stay on the vessel until returning to port. An employer will also financially cover transportation and wages for the injured worker even when they cannot work.
Jones Act Negligence Lawsuit
Negligence aboard a vessel can occur in many ways. The ability to file a lawsuit based on negligence requires a seaman to prove a duty of care was owed to them by their employer, vessel owner, or fellow crewmember. This duty was breached, producing an unsafe work environment, and their injuries were a direct result of this breach of duty.
Under the Jones Act, there is a reduced causation standard. This means that if the employer’s negligence played any part in the injury to the seaman, no matter how small, even if other acts or a combination of acts from some other cause occur, the employer is fully liable.
Maritime negligence may look like the following:
- Inadequate safety training and equipment
- Lack of a safe working environment
- Improperly maintained vessel
- Ignoring hazards and conditions that have been brought to the attention of the responsible party or parties
- Ignoring safety standards and regulations established by the maritime industry
- Providing improper medical care during transportation after an injury occurs
The Houston maritime accident lawyers of Dax F. Garza, P.C. have successfully represented maritime accident victims and secured their compensation despite the challenges in proving these elements of neglect.
Documenting an Accident in a Jones Act Lawsuit
Documentation is critical to filing a successful lawsuit. Unfortunately, the evidence on board a vessel can be eliminated after days pass before finally docking and obtaining treatment. If you are capable, acting as your own advocate by preserving essential evidence can prepare the way for a more seamless legal process.
Following these steps post-accident will contribute to collecting the needed documentation:
- Report your injuries immediately to your supervisor or employer. A detailed incident report should be recorded in writing and reviewed by you for accuracy, and a copy of the documentation should be given to you.
- Receive medical attention immediately to ensure your health and safety above everything else. A medical report will establish when the injuries occurred and the extent of the damage.
- Take pictures of anything at the accident scene that will support your claim, including your injuries. Accident reports, medical documentation, witness statements, and contact information will serve as solid evidence.
- Work with an attorney possessing an extensive understanding of the Jones Act. A Jones Act negligence lawsuit differs from both a personal injury case and a workers’ compensation claim.
While many lawsuits settle out of court, finding an attorney who can aggressively fight for you in court is imperative in a maritime injury case. The specialized laws involved and variety of defendants make these cases more complex than many other types of work injury claims.
Jones Act Damages
Maintenance and cure, which was previously discussed, is a no-fault compensation mechanism for injured offshore workers that compensates them for their costs of daily living and their medical expenses. We have also covered that injured seamen can secure fault-based compensation by filing a Jones Act lawsuit against an employer. In contrast, most workers’ compensation claims in Texas do not permit employees to file a lawsuit against their employer, limiting the amount of damages they can recover.
An injured seaman may also be able to recover the following damages in a Jones Act Lawsuit:
- Lost wages and loss of earning potential: Any wages that were uncompensated because of injuries can be claimed, including lost wages due to impairments or disabilities
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional trauma or injury
- Loss of enjoyment of life: The injuries prevent you from participating in the things you once enjoyed
- Permanent disfigurement and disability
- Punitive damages: Damages caused by gross or willful negligence on the part of an employer can be awarded to the injury victim and serve as punishment for the behavior of the neglectful party
Wrongful Death Damages
A family suffers tremendous loss when an employee dies in a work-related injury. Under the Death on the High Seas Act, the deceased’s family can file a lawsuit for the damages they suffer, including:
- Wrongful death
- Loss of support
- Loss of nurture
- Loss of services
- Loss of care, guidance, and instruction
- Funeral costs
- Loss of inheritance
Providing for your family in your absence is a critical factor that can be discussed with your loved ones and a Texas maritime accident attorney to ensure the void is not filled with additional hardship and pain.
Jones Act Lawsuit Statute of Limitations
Generally speaking, a lawsuit must be filed within three years of the accident date for injuries covered under the Jones Act. Failing to file before the deadline will likely result in your lawsuit being dismissed, preventing your opportunity for compensation. Few exceptions apply – and some exceptions make the timeline shorter – and it is always best not to put off filing.
Lawsuits can be settled out of court, but missing the filing deadline severely limits the options of an injury victim. It can also compromise evidence in a case.
Memories of an adverse incident often become distorted as time passes, making it more difficult for the victim and witnesses to portray the events that occurred accurately. The lawyers of Dax F. Garza, P.C. work to preserve evidence of your maritime injury claim, including personal and witness testimony.
Filing a Jones Act Claim
The maritime industry is vital to the economy of the United States, particularly Houston’s growing economy. The Port of Houston is the busiest port on the Gulf of Mexico. With its position near Galveston Bay, Houston is home to many seamen and offshore workers. Texas ranks third in the U.S. in maritime employment, supplying jobs to over 56,000 employees.
But maritime employment is considered one of the most dangerous industries to work within, with seamen facing some of the most hazardous job duties and work conditions. A miscalculated move can mean the end of a career or even a life. An understanding of the compensation available to workers injured in this environment is good to have before the need arises.
Texans work hard to keep the state and country moving through maritime operations, providing an enjoyable way of life for everyone benefitting from their work. When injuries occur in maritime accidents, life can come to a sudden halt for individuals who are used to keeping life in a steady state of flow. Their dedication and hard work are met with complacency and stall tactics used by the insurance industry to discourage and overwhelm injured victims.
Trust in the reliable legal representation of Dax F. Garza, P.C. to care for your needs after suffering injuries in a maritime accident. Our knowledgeable team of Houston maritime attorneys in Houston begins by providing a free consultation to discuss your case. Let us take care of you to ensure your legal needs are met so you have time to focus on physical healing and recovery.