In most cases, even when offshore employers agree to pay maintenance and cure benefits, these benefits will fall far short of meeting injured workers’ financial needs. To recover full compensation for their injury-related losses, seamen must consider pursuing additional claims for unseaworthiness and Jones Act negligence.
Most offshore workers are at least somewhat familiar with the concept of “maintenance and cure.” These are benefits that exist under the Jones Act (formally known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920), and that provide “no-fault” compensation for seamen’s medical bills and daily living expenses.
However, maintenance and cure benefits are limited. For example, in most cases, offshore employers only pay “maintenance” benefits (those designed to cover daily living expenses) in the range of $30 to $50 per day. This, of course, is not nearly enough to put food on the table, pay housing costs and utility bills, and cover most average family’s other day-to-day expenses. As a result, in most cases, offshore workers who get injured on the job must seek an addition source of financial compensation.
Jones Act Negligence: Holding Employers Responsible for Offshore Injuries
In addition to providing for maintenance and cure, the Jones Act also entitles injured seamen to seek additional financial compensation when their employers play a role in causing their injuries. By filing a claim for Jones Act negligence, a seaman who gets injured on the job can recover full compensation for his or her medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, loss of income, pain and suffering, and other losses.
The Jones Act employs a standard of “slight” negligence. This is a much lower standard than the one that applies in other types of personal injury cases. If a seaman’s employer makes any mistake that plays a role in causing his or her injuries, regardless of how small that role may be, the seaman is entitled to seek full compensation for Jones Act negligence.
Unseaworthiness: When Dangerous Conditions on a Vessel Lead to Injuries on the Job
Separate from seamen’s rights under the Jones Act, maritime law also provides injured workers with the ability to recover full compensation from owners of unsafe vessels. Vessel owners have a legal duty to maintain their vessels in “seaworthy” condition; and, when they fail to do so, they can be held liable for any injuries resulting from their vessel’s unseaworthiness.
The list of unseaworthy conditions is long. While it includes dangerous conditions such as unprotected stairwells and trip hazards on deck, inexperienced crewmembers, unsanitary living conditions and inadequate access to medical care can all render a vessel “unseaworthy” as well. As a result, any offshore worker who gets injured onboard a vessel should be sure to speak with his or her attorney about filing claims under the Jones Act and the law of unseaworthiness.