Washington State Bar Association
The Maritime Law Association of the United States
American Association for Justice
The Florida Ba
Washington State Association For Justice
United States Coast Guard

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. NIOSH has studied fishing safety in Alaska for nearly thirty years and has shown that the biggest dangers to fishermen involve falling overboard, faulty deck machinery and certain vessel disasters, including collisions, groundings and most importantly, sinkings. Anyone who has watched "Deadliest Catch" knows how dangerous life at sea can be. Nearly a hundred years ago, before the advent of television, Congress recognized the dangers faced by sailors. Aware that seamen faced dangers not just from the environment and the tough nature of their jobs, but also from unruly captains and vessel owners, the federal government enacted the Jones Act. Technically entitled The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, the law regulates maritime commerce and operations in US waters. The text of the act can be found at 46 U.S.C. § 30104. In addition to protecting US trade and promoting US shipping interests, the Jones Act protects seamen by granting to them certain remedies unavailable to regular shore-based workers. If you are a crew member and have been injured at sea, call a Seattle maritime lawyer at Anderson and Mitchell to learn about your options and discover the best way to move forward.

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 crew member 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. It's worth noting that any seaman who falls ill while in the service of the vessel is entitled to maintenance and cure. If you have any doubt about whether you are a Jones Act seaman or whether you are entitled to maintenance and cure for having fallen ill, it's best to call an experienced maritime lawyer to guide you forward. The Seattle maritime lawyers of Anderson and Mitchell are here to answer any questions you have.

Some examples of sustainable bases for Jones Act cases are:

  • Failure to provide a safe place to work. The duty of a vessel owner is to provide a "reasonably safe" place to work. Court interpretations of what is reasonable vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. It is important to note that the vessel owner need not provide a perfectly safe place to work, just a reasonably safe place.
  • Failure to provide and maintain safe equipment and gear. The standard here is not that all equipment be perfectly safe, but only reasonably safe considering the circumstances.
  • Failure to choose and hire a competent master and crew. The owner of the vessel has a non-delegable duty to make sure the captain and crew are seasoned and capable of performing their duties.
  • Failure of supervisors to give proper orders. Negligent instructions, orders or even suggestions by a supervisor to a subordinate can be the basis for a Jones Act negligence claim.
  • Failure to repair or correct know dangerous conditions on the vessel. Broken ladders, inoperative hatches, oil on deck, and lack of safety railings are just a few dangerous conditions that can give rise to a Jones Act claim.
  • Failure to give adequate instruction and supervision of basic safety matters. This could entail things like not holding safety drills or giving instructions on how to disembark during an emergency.
  • Failure to provide safety gear and to provide safety rules.
  • Failure to give proper and reasonable medical care.
  • Failure to abide by safety statutes drafted for the safety of crew members.
Who is a Seaman?

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, pilots, and a variety of other maritime workers. If the marine worker is a subcontractor or an employee of a subcontractor, he would have no claim under the Jones Act because the operator of the vessel is not his employer. We see this come up on occasion regarding certain workers on cruise lines.

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 group of vessels by his employer. The vessel must also be in navigation or capable of navigation, and the employee must have a more or less permanent connection with the vessel. The Washington maritime attorneys at Anderson & Mitchell can determine whether you are a seaman for purposes of the act. The facts of each case must be examined closely. Give our experienced maritime lawyers a call.

Lastly, a Jones Act claim must 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 because the rules of the courts differ with regard to scheduling, admissibility of evidence, jury instructions and so many other technicalities. An experienced Seattle maritime 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 Seattle lawyers at the firm of Anderson & Mitchell, PLLC by email at ba@andersonmitchell.com, wayne@andersonmitchell.com or by phone at (206) 436-8490.

Client Reviews
I'm so glad the lawyers at Anderson & Mitchell were there for me. The result of their work has changed my life! I can now move on with my life without financial worry. I'd recommend Anderson & Mitchell to anyone who needs a good lawyer! Eric W.
I was very pleased how Mr. Anderson kept me informed of the progress of my case. He was easy to talk to and took the time to explain things. My injury case was settled in a very professional manner and I was pleased with the outcome. Thank you! Dana B.
My case was unusual and needed creative lawyers to see it through. Bob and Wayne were there for me every step of the way. I have since referred several friends to them for legal help. They do a great job! Randy N.