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Maritime Law is Complex

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There are two federal laws that protect maritime workers who have been injured on the job: the Jones Act and the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act. Because both laws are mutually exclusive, if you qualify for one, you will not qualify for the other. Unless you or your employer have a good understanding of the differences between both Acts, it can be challenging to determine which federal law will apply to you.

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The Jones Act

The Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30104, gives an injured “seaman” the right to seek compensation when he or she is negligently injured by his or her employer.

Chandris, Inc., v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347, 115 S.Ct. 2172 (1995), set standards for determining a “Jones Act seaman” for purposes of filing a claim under the Jones Act:

  • A worker must spend 30% or more of his/her time in the service of a vessel on navigable waters;
  • Must be a member of the crew of a vessel; and
  • May also be someone assigned to a fleet of vessels by the employer.

Under those standards, “seamen” are considered crewmen on oil tankers, fishermen, tug and barge workers, pile drivers, and marine construction workers. Other examples of maritime workers covered by the Jones Act include card dealers on river boat casinos, bartenders and hairdressers on cruise ships, and fish processors. If the maritime workers’ efforts contribute to the mission of the vessel, they may be Jones Act seamen.

Since the Jones Act is a negligence remedy, it is enforced by filing a complaint in court. Compensation for damages can include pain and suffering, past and future wage loss, past and future fringe benefit value, medical expenses, and loss of quality of life. However, there can be no recovery for damages under the Jones Act unless the employer was negligent.

The Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act

The Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act provides for the payment of compensation, medical care, and vocational rehabilitation services to employees disabled from on-the-job injuries that occur on the navigable waters of the United States, or in adjoining areas customarily used in the loading, unloading, repairing, or building of a vessel. Section 902(3) provides that the term “employee” means any person engaged in maritime employment, including any longshoreman or other person engaged in longshoring operations, and any harbor worker, including a ship repairman, shipbuilder, and ship breaker. Section 903(a) states that a claim must occur upon the navigable waters of the United States or on an adjoining landward area customarily used by an employer in loading, unloading, repairing, dismantling, or building a vessel. Coverage includes a wide range of occupations, in addition to the traditional maritime occupations of longshoreman and shipbuilder, and includes maintenance and repair workers, construction workers, contractors of all kinds, and everyone whose work requires them to be on the navigable waters.

The Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act is administered by the U.S. Department of Labor. Unlike the Jones Act, The Department of Labor offers informal dispute resolution services, formal adjudication at the Office of Administrative Law Judges, administrative appeals to the Benefits Review Board, and judicial review by appeal to the United States Circuit Courts of Appeal.

The above guidelines may seem clear, but it is not so simple in establishing whether the injured worker is considered a “seaman” or maritime employee. The circumstances of each case and situation must be carefully evaluated by an experienced maritime law attorney. Call us for a free initial consultation with one of our attorneys which is experienced in injury at sea cases.

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If you are wondering whether maritime law has any application to your particular circumstances, the best advice is to consult with competent legal counsel without delay. There are circumstances in which a statute of limitations or claim filing period can be extremely limited – sometimes six months or less – and failure to take action can result in the loss of all rights. Call us for a free initial consultation with competent attorneys experienced in injury at sea cases.

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