What Is the Jones Act?

If you work in the maritime industry in Houston, TX, it’s essential to know your rights should you ever sustain a work-related injury. In order to recover compensation for medical bills and lost income, you may file a claim under the Jones Act: the federal law regulating US maritime commerce and protecting the rights of maritime employees. A local Texan maritime lawyer can help you understand how the Jones Act applies to your case. 

What Is the Jones Act?

The Jones Act is also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920. With regard to injured maritime workers, the Merchant Marine Act requires the employer to provide certain protection and benefits to injured employees. 

If you sustain an injury while performing a work-related task, you’ll almost always be entitled to Maintenance and Cure benefits under the Merchant Marine Act, irrespective of who was responsible for your injury. If your employer demonstrated some degree of negligence and fault for your injuries, you may also file a negligence claim against your employer.

Who the Merchant Marine Act Protects in Houston, TX

The Merchant Marine Act protects all qualifying seamen and offshore oil rig workers. This amounts to more than 56,000 employees in Texas, which has the third-largest maritime industry in the nation. 

To qualify as a seaman under the act’s protection, you’d need to perform a significant amount of your work on a vessel on navigable waters. For part-time workers, at least 30% of their work hours must be spent at sea to qualify as a seaman under the act’s protection.

Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act

Workers in ports, shipyards, marinas, and harbors don’t qualify as seamen unless they spend more than 30% of their work hours on board a vessel. These onshore workers are usually protected by a different law: the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act. If you’re unsure which act applies to you, it’s best to consult with an attorney before you attempt the wrong claims process.

Maintenance and Cure Claims

Under the Merchants Marine Act, any injured seaman may seek to recover compensation with a Maintenance and Cure claim, even if they caused their own injury with careless behavior. With a successful application, they may receive maintenance benefits, which cover weekly living expenses while away from work. 

An injured seaman may also recover cure benefits, which are money to pay for all reasonable medical treatment. Cure payments should continue until the doctor determines that the seaman has reached a state of maximum medical improvement. 

Ensuring Fair Maintenance and Cure Payouts

Sometimes, employers seek to minimize these payments in various ways. You may find that your weekly maintenance stipend is unfairly low. Always consult with a maritime attorney if you face this kind of problem. 

If you were assigned to the company doctor, that physician may have a conflict of interest: in order to save the employer money, they may seek to make light of your injuries or prematurely claim that you’ve attained maximum medical improvement. For this reason, it’s often advisable to change to a doctor of your choosing, which the Merchant Marine Act allows. A local attorney can often help you find a suitable medical practitioner. 

When To File a Negligence Claim 

The Merchant Marine Act requires all maritime employers to maintain certain safety standards in the workplace. This means they cannot knowingly allow hazardous conditions to develop, such as inadequate equipment, improperly maintained equipment, insufficient training on the usage of equipment, unsafe working methods, loose railings, grease on the deck, negligent behavior among the crew, or violence from coworkers. The vessel itself must also be kept in safe and seaworthy condition. 

If your employer allows any such hazardous conditions to develop and the hazard results in your accident and injury, you may file a negligence-based claim or lawsuit against the employer. With the aid of a maritime attorney, you can seek damages for any losses you’ve suffered, which may be more extensive than the relatively limited damages under a Maintenance and Cure claim. Damages may include medical costs, lost income, pain and suffering, mental anguish, and even punitive damages.

Proving Your Employer’s Negligence

Unlike a Maintenance and Cure claim, a successful negligence claim requires you to prove two things: that your employer or another crew member acted with negligence, and that their negligence directly caused your injury. In many cases, the employer will seek to refute your claim. It’s therefore necessary to build a strong case against them with the help of an experienced lawyer. 

One beneficial aspect of the Merchant Marine Act for injured seamen is the relatively low burden of proof required to prove an employer’s negligence. If you can prove that your employer’s negligence contributed to your injury in any way, they are legally liable to pay your damages. Even if your employer’s negligence was just one of many contributing factors, they’re still liable for your compensation in full. 

What To Do Following Your Accident 

Proving your employer’s negligence will require robust evidence. As soon as you’re injured, it’s important to gather photo and video evidence from the scene of the accident. Collect the contact details of any eyewitnesses and take note of any surveillance camera footage that might have captured the accident. It’s also important to immediately report the accident and your injury to your supervisor at work. 

If your employer requires you to fill out an accident report, do so. In the section that asks who was at fault for the accident, either state that you believe it was the company’s fault, or at least state that you’re not yet sure who was at fault. And be sure to seek immediate medical treatment, so you have the medical report to prove the connection between your injuries and the accident.

How a Maritime Lawyer Can Help Protect Your Rights

The surest way to understand your rights and legal options under the Merchants Marine Act is to consult with a maritime lawyer before you file your claim. In a Maintenance and Cure claim, an attorney can negotiate with your employer on your behalf to maximize your compensation. They can even help you find a suitable medical provider in Houston, TX. One significant benefit a seasoned lawyer provides is their network of medical providers, expert witnesses, and other useful professionals. 

In a negligence-based claim, an attorney can calculate your damages and then investigate the accident independently, gathering evidence to prove the employer’s liability and support the value of your damages. They can negotiate with your employer or your employer’s insurance provider. If necessary, an experienced trial lawyer can file a lawsuit and try your case in court before a judge and jury. An attorney also provides the moral support you may need to make it through the entire claims process.

If you’ve been injured at work, and you’d like an experienced maritime lawyer fighting your corner, contact Abraham Watkins today at (713) 222-7211 for a free consultation. We’re an award-winning local law firm in Houston, TX, that’s been helping injured workers like you win full and fair compensation since 1951.