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Jones Act FAQ

On Behalf of Armbruster Dripps Blotevogel LLC |

What is the Jones Act?

The Jones Act lets people who work on rivers, lakes, canals or oceans sue their employers for on-the-job injuries.  The employee must prove that the employer did something wrong to cause your injury.  Sometimes, the employer’s negligence isn’t obvious but a lawyer who understands building and breaking tow, making locks, engine room layouts, working in fleets, and wheelhouse equipment can ask the right questions to show that the employer is responsible for the injury.

How Is the Jones Act Different From Worker’s Compensation?

The biggest differences between worker’s compensation and the Jones Act are:

  • You need to prove fault or a problem with equipment under the Jones Act instead of just an injury at work;
  • The temporary benefits are different; daily maintenance rate (usually between $40 and $75 per day) instead of 2/3 of your pay;
  • No schedule or table of damages;  unlike worker’s compensation, you can get money for pain and suffering;
  • You can go to court, with the option of a jury trial, instead of an arbitrator;
  • You can choose your own doctors under the Jones Act unlike some worker’s compensation laws.

Who Is Covered By the Jones Act?

The Jones Act applies to “seamen.” This does not mean you have to go to sea to be covered. It does not mean that you need to have been injured while you were on the boat or barge. If you work regularly on a boat, barge, or ship you probably can sue under the Jones Act even if you were hurt while you were on land, a lock wall or a dock.  This includes:

  • Deckhands
  • Mates
  • Engineers
  • Pilots
  • Captains
  • Barge-related construction workers
  • Drillers
  • Oilers
  • Cooks
  • Commercial Fishermen
  • AB and OS Sailors
  • Stewards
  • Divers

How Long Do I Have To Make A Claim?

In most cases, you have up to three years from the day of injury to file your lawsuit.  Some cases must be filed in two years or even as soon as one year from the date of your injury. But even if you still have time, if you delay filing in court, it can allow your employer to choose where the case will be tried by filing a Limitation of Liability Act case of its own. The United States Supreme Court decided unanimously in favor of Roy Dripps’ client in a limitation of liability case.  

What Can a Jones Act Claim Cover?

Qualified seamen covered by this Act can file a claim for money compensation. Because you have to prove that your injury was the employer’s fault, reporting your injury directly to the captain, pilot on watch or other supervisor is important.  Be sure to include in your accident report why the working conditions were unsafe.  Take a picture of the accident report with your phone. If you were injured because of defective or bad equipment, take a picture of the equipment if possible. You should call a lawyer before you give any kind of recorded statement.

Claims for Pain and Suffering

There is no set formula for pain and suffering. This is where an experienced attorney can make a big difference in the outcome of your case. 

Claims for Lost Wages

You can get money if an injury keeps you from working or changes the kinds of work you can do. You can get money for the difference between what you could make before you were hurt and what you can make now. The cost of job counseling or even formal education to help you earn what you should be earning can also be recovered in some cases.

Claims for Medical Expenses

Maritime accidents often lead to substantial medical bills. Usually, the employer pays your medical bills until you have gotten as well as you can get.  This is called “maximum cure” and is the point where the employer is permitted to stop paying for medical treatment and to stop paying you maintenance. If the employer unreasonably fails to pay your medical bills or pay you maintenance, you may be able to get punitive damages to punish your employer.   

Wrongful Death Claims

In the unfortunate event of a seaman’s accidental death, certain family members can file a Jones Act claim for wrongful death. This legal action, if successful, may provide dependents with financial support.

How Much Is My Case Worth?

This is a complex question because, unlike workers’ compensation, there is no chart or schedule that says how much your case is worth.  Here are some things that we consider in trying to determine how much a case is worth:

  • Where will the case be filed?  Your case can be filed in either state or federal court.  In federal court, you may have the choice of a jury trial or trial to a judge without a jury.  The same case can be worth different amounts in different courts.
  • What does your doctor say your restrictions are?  Has your doctor put permanent work restrictions on you?  Did you have to have surgery?  Have you had similar physical problems in the past?  Did you skip physical therapy or work hardening appointments? Any of these can affect your case.
  • Do your co-workers back up what you say about how the accident happened?  Sometimes, people disagree on what happened when someone got hurt.  This can affect the value of your case.
  • Do you have a serious criminal background?  Some criminal convictions are proper evidence in a case for injuries.  The evidence rules vary from state to state, and state evidence rules may be different from federal evidence rules. 
  • Were you honest on your job application and pre-employment physical about your general background and health history?  If you conceal information that your employer asked for, this can affect the value of your case. 
  •  Until your doctor and the other crew members have testified under oath in a pre-trial deposition, it is very difficult to determine how much any case is worth.  You should question any lawyer who tells you how much your case is worth before the lawyer has reviewed your medical records, witness statements, accident reports, and other important information.  Be very skeptical of any attorney who tries to tell you that he can get you millions of dollars in a short period of time.

I Received Court Papers With The Name Of My Boat On It – Do I Need To Be Concerned?

YES, YOU DO!  If you have received a formal notice that says something like “In re Your Boat” or “In The Matter Of Your Boat” you need to contact an experienced maritime lawyer IMMEDIATELY.  This is a formal notice that your employer is asking a federal judge to decide that they don’t owe you a dime for your injury in a special federal proceeding called Limitation And Exoneration.  This is a very complex legal area that requires immediate advice from a competent Admiralty Attorney. Our attorneys have decades of experience in Limitation and Exoneration cases in courts from New York, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Tennessee, and even in the United States Supreme Court.    

Want to Know More About Your Rights Under the Jones Act?

Contact Armbruster Dripps Blotevogel today to schedule a no-obligation consultation. You can reach us at 866-806-3476 or online.