Frequently Asked Questions About U.S. Maritime Law Claims
Nearly every day, we receive phone calls and email inquiries from injured seamen and their families, asking about Jones Act claims.
Below are some of the most common questions we receive. For further information about how we can help you recover the compensation you are entitled to for your injury or wrongful death claim, contact our offices in Oakland, California. We represent clients in maritime law cases nationwide.
1. What does “maritime law” or “admiralty law” mean?
The term “maritime law” (which you will also hear referred to as admiralty law) refers to a federal body of laws that govern accidents and injuries that happen to workers and others on or near the water. These laws are also commonly referred to as the Jones Act and general maritime law, and workers on navigable waters are often referred to as Jones Act seamen.
These laws protect seamen injured on or near the water, and those injured can secure compensation in several different ways. They can request “maintenance and cure,” file a claim for “unseaworthiness” or file a claim under the Jones Act asserting that their employer was negligent. Many claims assert all three remedies.
2. What should one expect when filing a Jones Act lawsuit?
If you were injured while working at sea, your only remedy to recover lost wages and other damages is to file a claim under the Jones Act. If you chose to do this, here is what you should be prepared for as you move forward:
- Find an experienced Jones Act attorney with a proven track record. Not all lawyers regularly handle Jones Act or maritime law cases, so make sure you find somebody with actual experience. Our firm has more than 150 years of maritime experience.
- You will be asked to provide several categories of documents as the lawsuit progresses. As such, it’s better to begin gathering this information as soon as you can so your attorney can better represent you. You’ll need to create a file with all of your medical information, your accident report, any letters or documents you received from your employer, pictures from the accident, a list of witnesses and anything else related to your case. Having these documents early helps speed up your claim.
- Make sure you have seen a physician for your injury (you don’t have to see a company doctor; in fact we discourage it). Otherwise, it will appear you weren’t really hurt in the accident.
- Don’t give any recorded statements, and don’t sign anything you don’t understand. DON’T ever agree that any injury was solely your own fault. Often the question of fault is complicated, and you may not be aware of maritime laws that were not followed by your employer that may have a bearing on your case. This is one of the first pitfalls that can damage your case. Talk to your lawyer about anything you are asked to do that makes you uncomfortable.
Once you move forward with a Jones Act case you should be ready for a fight. Many companies and their insurance companies will try all kinds of tactics to keep from having to pay you for your injuries. A good lawyer will make sure that you get what you deserve.
3. What should you do after suffering a maritime injury?
If you were injured while working at sea, you may be wondering what to do. Here are some things to keep in mind after your accident:
- Report the accident to your supervisor, and fill out an accident report. Make sure the report is complete and accurate before you sign it, and remember to be wary of being pressured into agreeing that the accident wasn’t anyone’s fault but your own. This is the first thing the companies will try to trick you with.
- Seek medical care immediately. Don’t wait. Delays could compromise your case.
- Take pictures of the accident scene, if possible. If you can’t take pictures, get somebody else to take them for you.
- Do not sign any documents unless you understand and agree with them. Ideally, show documents to an experienced maritime law attorney before you sign.
- Keep thorough records of everything that happens. Keep copies of every form you submit or sign, keep a diary or log of everything that happens and write down anything you are told.
- Talk to an experienced maritime lawyer about your case.
Our experienced Jones Act and maritime attorneys are available to talk to you about your case at any time of day for free.
4. What is the statute of limitations under the Jones Act for injuries at sea?
Under the Jones Act, if you are injured while working at sea, you have three years from the date of the accident to bring your lawsuit. If it’s a government-owned vessel you have only two years. This does not mean that you should wait until a week before the statute runs out before contacting an attorney. You should talk to a lawyer as soon are you are able to do so.
Sometimes there is a good reason to file a lawsuit close to the end of the statute. For instance, you may have latent injuries that have not fully manifested themselves soon after the accident. On the other hand, there may be good reasons to file the suit sooner than later.
5. How do I know if I am covered by the Jones Act?
The Jones Act covers seamen working in the service of a vessel that is in navigation at the time of injury. The term navigation has been interpreted broadly by the courts, so if you have any questions, call us immediately. Many times you may not even realize you’re a Jones Act seamen.
The Jones Act covers all injuries sustained by seamen whether on or off the vessel, if the injury occurred while the seaman was working within the service of the vessel. Again, the phrase “service of the vessel” is a legal term, and you may not realize you’re covered by the Jones Act. For example, even a bartender on a vessel is protected by the Jones Act.
6. What is a Jones Act seaman?
In order to take advantage of Jones Act, an injured maritime worker must be classified as a “seaman.” Seaman status is determined by substantial connection to a single vessel or a fleet of vessels. These are legal terms, and it is dangerous for you to assume you are or aren’t covered by the maritime laws. Call us to ensure your future is protected.
7. What is the definition of a vessel under the Jones Act?
Just like “Jones Act seamen,” the term “Jones Act vessel” can be equally confusing. There are a variety of “vessels” that can be considered to fall under the Jones Act. Some examples are: dredges, tugboats, barges, towboats, crew boats, tanker boats, supply boats, fishing boats, offshore oil rigs and more.
Keep in mind that the important factor here isn’t just what kind of vessel you were on but the nature of your work and your relationship to the vessel.
8. What does “unseaworthiness” mean?
A vessel owner owes Jones Act seamen an absolute duty to provide a seaworthy ship. That means the vessel must have appropriate safety gear and equipment, safe facilities, a competent crew and adequate hull, appliances, gear, equipment and instructions.
If, for example, a piece of equipment breaks or is inoperable and it causes injury, a seamen may be able to bring an unseaworthiness claim. If the crew is too small, or untrained or inadequately trained, you may be able to bring an unseaworthiness claim if injury results.
If there is a condition like oil, grease or other substance that is not supposed to be there, and it causes injury, a seaman may be able to bring an unseaworthiness claim.
An unseaworthy condition focuses on the condition of the vessel, and the “warranty of seaworthiness” applies to the entire vessel, its equipment, its crew and its appurtenances and appliances.
9. What is an unseaworthiness claim?
A claim based upon unseaworthiness should be brought when a person is injured due to an unsafe condition on the vessel. An unsafe condition may include unsafe operation of the vessel, inappropriate type of vessel for the work involved, defective or unsafe equipment, worn-out equipment, improperly supplied vessel, improperly trained or inadequate crew, insufficient number of crew and unsafe condition anywhere on the vessel that leads to injury.
More often than not the “unseaworthiness” of a vessel may not be perceived by the injured seaman. It is dangerous to assume any injury is solely your fault. It is imperative that you discuss your injury with experienced maritime attorneys on the subject of fault.
10. What is general maritime law?
The general maritime law comes from deep in our maritime past and refers to the common law that has developed over hundreds of years. General maritime law provides many unique benefits to injured maritime workers and passengers and to the family of deceased workers or passengers. The most common of these benefits is known as “maintenance and cure,” which is the obligation of the employer to provide all necessary medical care for the shipboard injury as well as a nominal amount of money per day that historically was for room and board while a seaman was recovering from an injury.
General maritime law claims supplement claims by Jones Act seamen, as well as longshoremen or any other offshore worker against third parties. These claims include claims by nonseamen and passengers for negligence of vessel owners or third parties resulting in injuries while involved in traditional maritime activities.
11. What is maintenance and cure?
Maintenance under the Jones Act means a daily compensation to cover the cost of basic food and shelter that the seaman would have received aboard the vessel while working. Maintenance rates are low and typically range from $15 to $50 per day.
Cure, as provided under the Jones Act, includes medical treatment, prescription medications, therapy, doctor visits, nursing services, hospital expenses and other necessary treatment in the course of recovery until the seaman reaches maximum medical improvement.
12. If I suffer an offshore injury, am I required to see only company doctors?
NO! Injured offshore workers and Jones Act seamen are NOT required to see only company doctors. You should pick a doctor whom you like, with whom you are comfortable, and who treats you fairly and appropriately. Some maritime workers are required to see certain medical groups pursuant to union agreements, but there are many exceptions to even those requirements.
Unfortunately, some company-affiliated medical providers will try to force you back to work before you are ready and will avoid performing tests that reveal the true extent of any possible injury.
13. What is “maximum cure” or “maximum medical improvement”?
If you are a seaman who has been injured while working, your employer owes you “cure” — medical care — for injures that you suffered while in the service of the vessel. Your employer is required to pay for your cure until you reach “maximum cure,” also referred to as “maximum medical cure” or “maximum medical improvement.”
Once an injured worker reaches a point in his recovery after which he will not improve any further, or if he is permanently disabled and treatment will no longer improve his condition, then he has reached maximum medical improvement. At this time, maintenance and cure payments end. Even if an injured still needs medication or treatment to control pain, once his physical condition has reached its maximum medical improvement these benefits will cease.
Employers and injured seamen can disagree about when the point of maximum medical improvement is reached. Consult with your maritime law attorney to ensure you are receiving the cure that you are legally entitled to after an offshore injury.
14. I am not a Jones Act seaman, what law applies to my injury claim?
Maritime workers who are not “seamen” are likely covered by the general maritime law. The general maritime law may sometimes overlap with Jones Act claims, but it also covers virtually every type of offshore and longshore workers who do not qualify as “seamen.” The general maritime law dates back to ancient times when protection of the maritime worker was a top priority.
15. How do I get paid benefits as quickly as possible?
Personal injures not only result in physical injuries but many times result in serious financial injury as well. The quickest way to achieve money damages is to hire an attorney immediately. Sadly, in most cases employers and insurance companies do not offer an acceptable amount of money to an unrepresented injured worker and usually take a long time to do even that! Let us use our experience and know-how to immediately start working on your case. We strive to bring every claim to conclusion as quickly and beneficially as possible. We will never recommend a quick settlement if it is not in the best interests of our client.
16. How much is my maritime personal injury case worth?
The answer to this question depends upon the specific facts of your case. Some of the more important factors are: past and future loss of earnings; past and future loss of fringe benefits; past and future pain and suffering; mental anguish; physical disfigurement; medical expenses; loss of household services; and many others. The best way to determine the potential value of your case is to consult with an experienced lawyer who will listen to the facts of your case and discuss with you the potential value of your case.
17. How to get medical treatment and testing as quickly as possible?
We can help injured workers receive medical treatment from the best medical doctors. We understand that a personal injury matter requires a quick response, and we will move quickly to secure the best medical treatment available to our clients. Call the Jones Act and maritime lawyers at the Law Offices of Lyle C. Cavin, Jr. & Associates, today. Consultations are free of charge.
18. What is the difference between Jones Act claims, longshore claims and workers’ compensation claims?
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that a maritime law case is a workers’ compensation case. Workers’ compensation laws are passed by the various states with relatively small cash settlements. The Jones Act is a federal law involving much greater settlements if the slightest negligence is involved or if the unseaworthiness of the vessel is a factor. There is no state or federal agency involved in the administration of Jones Act and general maritime law claims, unlike workers’ compensation and Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act claims. Injured workers covered under the these laws should be careful about making claims under workers’ compensation or the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. It is possible to lose rights if the worker elects benefits under other laws. If you have mistakenly made a claim under the wrong law, call us immediately so that we can make things right. Settlements in maritime law cases can be significant and the law complex. Injured workers should consult with a lawyer early in the case and be aware of the employer’s desire to minimize their losses.
19. Can I qualify for benefits as both a Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act and a Jones Act seaman?
Normally, you are either a seaman under the Jones Act or you are a longshore or harbor worker covered under Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. Ultimately, the law in these two areas can be complicated. You should consult with an attorney who is knowledgeable in the field of maritime claims with experience handling Jones Act cases to determine your proper status under the law. You may only recover under one of these legal remedies and cannot afford to waste time pursuing the wrong cause of action.
20. What happens if I filed a state workers’ compensation or Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act claim first?
If you first file a claim under a different legal remedy, such as the LHWCA, and find that you are not entitled to recovery under that theory of law, you may run out of time to file a Jones Act claim. Furthermore, because dual recovery is not allowed, filing a claim under a state’s workers’ compensation statutes may bar your recovery under the Jones Act. If you have mistakenly filed a claim under another theory of law, call us immediately so that we may protect your rights and remedies.
21. What if I received voluntary payments of LHWCA benefits from my employer?
If your employer has voluntarily paid benefits to you under the LHWCA guidelines without an administrative hearing or formal settlement requiring such payment, you may still pursue a Jones Act cause of action. However, the LHWCA specifically provides for any monies recovered under the Jones Act and paid to an injured worker who has been compensated under its provisions for an injury, disability or death to be credited against any liability imposed by the LHWCA.
22. Why hire a maritime lawyer?
Some employers will attempt to discourage workers from obtaining information about their legal rights and will try to get workers to file claims under workers’ compensation laws or longshore harbor worker laws instead of the Jones Act. If an employer is unwilling to fairly compensate workers, a lawsuit can be filed in federal district court or state court seeking damages. Most cases are settled prior to trial. Competent maritime lawyers can:
- Communicate with the employer and insurance company on your behalf
- Make sure that your future medical bills are taken care of
- Make sure that you are adequately retrained if you can’t do your old job
- Make sure that you don’t lose your house, your car and other property
- Get you the cash settlement that you deserve.
23. How much are attorneys’ fees?
Attorneys’ fees for maritime and Jones Act claims are 33 1/3 percent for both claims settled prior to and after filing the lawsuit when our firm represents you. We urge you to do your research and find a more competitive fee. Most firms charge 40 percent at the outset or right after they file suit. Most cases are submitted to litigation before they settle.
Additionally, some firms will deduct their firm’s percentage of the settlement claim prior to deducting the costs involved in prosecuting the case. This ultimately leaves less for the client. The Law Offices of Lyle C. Cavin, Jr. & Associates, deducts all costs prior to taking their contingency fee. This puts more money in the client’s pocket.
24. What does “contingency fee” mean?
That means if we win your case or obtain a settlement, you pay us a percentage of your settlement after costs are deducted and you keep the rest.
If we lose your case, you pay us nothing. No fees, no expenses. Nothing.
The advantage of the contingency fee in maritime injury cases is that it allows you to hire top-notch lawyers without a large upfront cost to you. It gives us a very strong incentive to get you the best settlement possible, because our payment is contingent upon what we obtain for you in your case.
It also encourages us to be quick and efficient with your case. Lawyers who charge clients by the hour may have an incentive to work longer and drag the case on. After all, the more time they spend on your case, the more money they make in attorney fees. Also, lawyers who charge by the hour typically get paid whether they win your case or lose it. If you have any questions about our fee arrangements, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
25. How will I pay my bills while I am unable to work following a maritime injury?
If you qualify under the Jones Act, then your company is required to pay “maintenance and cure.” The maintenance will help you pay your bills.
Additionally, you will likely be eligible for state disability benefits and in cases of longer disability, you may be entitled to Social Security benefits.
If your company doesn’t pay maintenance, or if you don’t qualify under the Jones Act, some attorneys may make arrangements to help you with your bills from other sources while your legal case is ongoing.
26. Nobody was at fault in my maritime accident. Am I still eligible for compensation?
First, NEVER assume the accident was solely your fault. More cases are damaged by this assumption than any other mistake the seaman can make. There are vast bodies of maritime law that we use to show the accident was not your fault.
However, even if at the end of the day the injury was solely your fault, as a Jones Act seaman you are indeed eligible for compensation in the form of maintenance and cure no matter who was at fault in your accident — even if nobody was at fault.
It is important to know your rights, because sometimes an employer will tell you that you aren’t eligible for benefits because the accident was your fault. This just isn’t true.
Make sure you get independent legal advice after an injury. Please contact our office to discuss your situation for no cost or obligation.
27. If I file a maritime injury claim, will I be blackballed or blacklisted?
After a serious accident, some workers are worried that they will be blacklisted or blackballed or otherwise discriminated against if they file a claim. These workers are concerned that they will lose their job or they won’t be able to find another one if word gets around that they filed a legal claim.
For the most part, these fears are unfounded. It is illegal for employers to discriminate against you simply because you were protecting your rights by hiring an attorney to help you protect your rights.
28. What is my maritime injury case worth, and how quickly should we expect the company to settle my case?
One of the most commonly asked questions a new client asks is “What is my case worth,” followed closely after by, “when should we expect to settle it?” There are a number of factors that determine what your case is worth, and how quickly it settles. The answer to this question depends on many factors.
First, the seriousness of the injury itself. For instance, is the injury something that will keep you out of work forever? For a year? For a month? Not at all?
Second, what was your earning potential at the time you were injured? As a Jones Act seaman, if you prove negligence of the shipowner or unseaworthiness of the vessel you are entitled to all past lost wages and future wages. Oftentimes, the real fight is over how long you would have continued to work in the maritime field. This question is one of the more important factors in determining your case’s value.
Another fact is where the injury happened and where you file it. Some places are better to file a lawsuit than others — some places tend to be more pro-business and anti-injured employee, while others are more pro-injured employee and less pro-business. Jones Act injury claims have complicated venue rules about where you can file your case — you MUST talk to an experienced offshore injury lawyer to make this determination.
Finally, there are a lot of other factors to consider when determining the value of a Jones Act settlement or jury verdict, including:
- How good is your lawyer? How experienced? Can your lawyer actually win at trial? Does your lawyer have the resources to take on large offshore companies?
- How good is the defense lawyer? How experienced? Can the defense lawyer actually try a case?
- How clear is the “liability,” or, to put it another way, how clear is it about who was at fault?
- Were any safety regulations violated? By whom? How serious were the violations?
- Has any employee been injured in the same way, or by the same equipment, before?
- Were there preaccident warnings?
The list goes on and on. This is just a sample of the many things that an experienced maritime injury lawyer can help you evaluate.
When will I get my settlement or my court date?
This completely depends on the court you are in, how hard your lawyer fights for you and how hard the company’s lawyer tries to delay the case.
The Law Offices of Lyle C. Cavin, Jr. & Associates, has developed a trusted network of talented maritime counsel throughout every major shipping port in the United States. If you have a question about failure of a shipowner to provide medical care after your onboard injury, talk to an experienced attorney on our team today. Contact us to arrange a free case evaluation; call 510-291-4743 or 888-340-7991. From our offices in Oakland, California, we represent injured seamen nationwide.