Texas alone ships more than 100 million tons of cargo domestically each year, and Houston is second in the nation for maritime jobs. The Port of Houston’s economic activity helps make Texas one of the top three states in the country for maritime jobs. The thriving domestic maritime industry adds $8 billion annually to the Texas economy and provides more than 39,000 maritime jobs in the state. While the maritime industry is certainly a boon for the economy, accidents do happen while at sea. When seamen are injured at sea, there are various federal maritime laws that may apply, including the Jones Act. For the thousands of mariners who work on ships, boats, and other vessels throughout the Gulf Coast region, Jones Act coverage can vary depending on the circumstances surrounding the incident that resulted in injuries.
What Is the Jones Act?
The Jones Act is also known as The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, which is a federal statute that provides a legal remedy to any seamen injured in the course of their employment (46 U.S.C. §30104). It gives a seaman who is injured on the job the right to bring a cause of action against their employer for negligence and seek compensation for personal injury damages. Employers and/or vessel owners have a duty to maintain a reasonably safe working environment under the Jones Act. The Jones Act provides more benefits than would be available under a traditional workers’ compensation claim. The law also regulates various aspects of the domestic maritime industry.
Who Is Covered Under the Jones Act?
In order for the Jones Act to apply, the person must qualify as a seaman and be injured in the course of employment. The law itself does not define the term “seaman,” but a definition has been developed throughout a number of court decisions.
The U.S. Supreme Court developed a two-prong seaman status test wherein the individual must (1) contribute to the vessel’s function or completion of its mission and (2) have a connection to a vessel in navigation or perform a substantial part of their work aboard a vessel.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that an employee who performs less than 30 percent of their work in service of a vessel is generally not considered a seaman. Legally speaking, courts will typically consider the totality of circumstances when determining whether someone qualified for seaman status under the Jones Act.
What Offshore Injuries Are Covered?
The Jones Act provides a statutory remedy for seamen who are injured in the course of their employment. This can include injuries that occur offshore, in transit to or from a vessel, or onshore so long as the activity was in service to the ship. Common maritime injuries and causes of injuries that could qualify someone to get Jones Act coverage include:
- Falling overboard: When people think of maritime accidents, falling overboard is often what comes to mind. But these accidents can also include falling in between two docked vessels. Workers can fall overboard while handling fishing gear or loading cargo.
- Slip and fall accidents: Unseaworthy ship conditions, such as unsafe floors, can cause workers to slip and fall which can lead to broken bones, head injuries, and other damages.
- Injuries in enclosed spaces: Ships and boats often have cargo areas, storage rooms, chain lockers, and other small spaces wherein workers can accidentally become trapped and exposed to toxic chemicals or suffer from low oxygen.
- Chemical burns: Workers can suffer chemical burns if appropriate safety measures are not taken into account in an engine room, the galley, or in a variety of other locations onboard a vessel in navigation. Hot oil and boiling water can cause serious injury to the skin as well as nerve damage, depending on the severity of the offshore accident.
- Repetitive motion injuries: When employers fail to properly train their workers, seamen are refused appropriate work breaks, or the crew is not provided with proper safety equipment, workers can suffer from RMD (repetitive motion disorder). Repetitive bending of any joints can injure the back, knees, neck, hip, feet, and ankles, among others.
- Fishing injuries: Fishing injuries often occur on commercial fishing vessels. These incidents can cause head injuries, back injuries, or even fatalities.
- Broken bones and injuries to extremities: Broken bones aren’t uncommon when working with heavy equipment offshore. The severity can vary from those that heal in a few weeks to those that require amputation or cause the worker to live with lifelong debilitation.
What Damages Can Be Recovered?
In order to recover compensation under the Jones Act, an injured employee must prove their employer acted in a negligent manner and this conduct was the proximate cause of the injury. With respect to a Jones Act claim, an injured seaman can seek financial compensation for past and future:
- Physical pain
- Medical expenses
- Mental anguish
- Loss of earning capacity
- Physical limitations
In addition to personal injury damages for negligence, injured seamen may be able to recover maintenance and cure benefits. Maintenance refers to being paid a portion of your regular wages to cover your daily living expenses while you are unable to work due to your injury. Cure refers to having your medical bills related to the offshore accident covered while you are undergoing treatment before you reach maximum medical improvement (MMI). A worker who is injured in service of a vessel may be entitled to maintenance and cure even if the vessel owner or employer was not at fault for the injury.
Houston Maritime Accident Lawyers
If you have been injured while working offshore, it is important to consult with an experienced maritime injury lawyer. The skilled team of Houston maritime injury lawyers at The Krist Law Firm, P.C. have been handling Jones Act claims for more than four decades, so we know what it takes to fight for the maximum compensation possible for your injuries.
We have a proven track record of success in a broad variety of maritime accident cases and we will commit the full extent of our skills, knowledge, and resources to help you obtain the financial compensation you deserve. Call us today at 281-326-9197 or use our online contact form to schedule a free case evaluation with one of our maritime lawyers today.