Death on the High Seas
If you are a maritime worker who is injured on the job, you may be entitled to benefits under the Jones Act, which is a federal maritime statute encompassing a very substantial portion of U.S. maritime and admiralty law. The Jones Act defines the legal obligations and duties between a seaman and his or her employer and the law for the claims of crew members injured while working on the ship. Jones Act claims are very complicated, and not a field of law that many attorneys specialize in.
The Jones Act applies to officers and crew members on nearly every type of vessel or ship, including cruise ships, barges, tugs and tows, jack-up oil rigs, semi-submersible rigs, push boats, dredges, tankers, freighters, crew boats, supply boats, and fishing vessels. The law applies to seamen on oceangoing or blue water vessels, as well as crew members on inland waterways, including rivers.
Longshoremen, harbor workers, ship builders, ship repair personnel, pilots, and fixed-platform workers are not covered by the Jones Act, as they fall under other maritime laws and are entitled to different remedies.
Maintenance and Cure
Under the Jones Act, if you are injured or become ill while serving on a ship, your employer or ship owner is obligated to pay maintenance and cure, regardless of whether your employer is at fault. Maintenance is a daily rate that is designed to replace the living benefits you have while on the vessel, such as food, lodging and utilities. There is no standard maintenance rate; the amount paid to each individual varies.
Cure is your employer’s or vessel owner’s obligation to pay your medical expenses associated with the injury or illness. Cure is owed until your doctor can do no more to heal your condition, which is known as reaching maximum medical improvement.
You are entitled to maintenance and cure regardless of the cause of your injury. You do not have to prove that the illness or injury resulted from your employment.
A maritime employer’s failure to pay maintenance and cure is actionable, and, if the refusal is willful, it can result in a claim for attorney fees and punitive damages. A three-year statute of limitations applies to maritime claims under general maritime law, including those for maintenance and cure. Actions are filed against an employer under the Jones Act in state or federal court.
Negligence exists when an employer is even slightly careless in causing an injury. An employer has a duty to provide a safe work environment and a seaworthy vessel. If the vessel is not fit for its intended purposes or is equipped with defective gear, including tools, large equipment and even toilets, or the crew is incompetent or of an inadequate size, it may constitute employer negligence. The employer may also be liable if you are assaulted by a fellow crew member.
Damages for injuries caused by employer negligence under the Jones Act include pain and suffering, lost earnings, medical expenses and loss of the ability to lead a normal life.
Death on the High Seas Act
If you have lost a family member or loved one, whether a passenger or a maritime worker, at sea, our firm can take the careless parties to court to obtain financial compensation for the loss under the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA).
DOHSA was enacted by Congress in 1920 and provided recovery for the death of any person “caused by wrongful act, neglect, or default occurring on the high seas beyond a marine league (3 nautical miles) from the shore of any State…or the Territories or dependencies of the United States.” The Act provides that the decedent’s personal representative recovers “for the exclusive benefit of the decedent’s wife, husband, parent, child, or dependent relative.” Damages under the Death on the High Seas Act include loss of care, nurture and guidance, loss of financial support, loss of household services, medical expenses, and burial/funeral costs.
Liability in a Death on the High Seas Act claim may be based upon negligence, unseaworthiness if the decedent was a seaman, intentional conduct, and strict or products liability. The Death on the High Seas Act also expressly permits liability to be based upon any applicable foreign law. Maritime death cases are intricate and must include early accident investigation of the cause of death of the seaman or passenger.