Maritime Personal Injury

Injuries to Fishermen and Seamen

Commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous jobs in America. Indeed, a recent report from the National Institutes of Occupational Safety and Health indicated that the fatality rate is 26 times higher than the rate for all U.S. workers. Anyone who has watched "Deadliest Catch" knows how dangerous life at sea can be. But long ago, before the advent of television, Congress recognized the dangers faced by sailors. Aware that seaman faced dangers not just from the environment and nature of their jobs, but also from unruly captains and vessel owners, the federal government enacted the Jones Act.

Jones Act

The Jones Act protects workers at sea – so-called "Jones Act seamen" when they are injured by either negligence of another or an unsafe vessel. The law allows an injured seaman compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, disability, as well as pain and suffering caused by an injury at sea. The Jones Act differs from traditional remedies for injured workers in several ways. For starters, Jones Act Seamen are entitled to "Maintenance and Cure." Maintenance is a daily stipend that an employer must pay to the injured seaman to compensate for the cost of room and board the seaman would have received but for the injury. Cure refers to the sum total of the injured seaman's medical expenses. The employer is responsible for maintenance and cure from the time of the accident until the seaman has reached the point of maximum medical improvement (MMI). In addition to Maintenance and Cure, the vessel owner is also responsible for the wages which the seaman would have earned for the duration of the voyage had he or she not been injured.

Some examples of sustainable bases for Jones Act cases are:
  • Failing to provide a safe place to work, if the unsafe place is the vessel or if it is another place under the employer's control.
  • An unseaworthiness claim may be pursued if the employer is the owner of the vessel, and the injury is caused by an unsafe condition on the vessel.
  • A violation of a safety statute causes the injury.
  • Failing to provide adequate medical care.
  • Negligence of other employees or individuals for which the employer is responsible, including co-workers.
  • Failure to rescue or search for a seaman if he jumps or falls overboard.
  • The vessel was not reasonably fit for its intended use, not a safe place to work and live.
  • The vessel was not equipped with appropriate safety gear and equipment.
  • The vessel had unsafe recreation facilities.
  • Failure to maintain a competent crew.
  • Dangerous conditions arising during the voyage or created by co-workers.
One of the central questions in any maritime injury case is whether the injured party is a seaman, since only a seaman can recover under the Jones Act. In general, anybody who is employed on a vessel whose work contributes to the work of the vessel is considered a seaman. This includes deckhands, bridge officers, processors aboard factory trawlers, and a variety of other workers.

A seaman under the Jones Act must be a member of the crew of a vessel such as a freighter, fishing boat, tug, supply boat, barge, or factory trawler, or someone assigned to a fleet of vessels by his employer. The vessel must also be in navigation and the employee must have a more or less permanent connection with the vessel. Anderson & Mitchell can help figure out whether you are a seaman for purposes of the act. The facts of each case must be examined closely. Give us a call.

A Jones Act claim must generally be brought within three years of the injury. The claim can be filed in federal court or state court. This is often a complicated and critical decision. An experienced lawyer should decide where to file the claim as this choice can affect the amount of the recovery.

If you have been injured on a vessel and would like more information about your rights, then contact the experienced lawyers at the law firm of Anderson & Mitchell, PLLC by email at ba@andersonmitchell.com or by phone at (206) 436-8490.