Common Mistakes with Jones Act Claims: How to Navigate the Legal Waters

by | Jul 26, 2023 | Maritime Accident, Maritime Injury, Maritime Law, Offshore Accident, The Jones Act

The Jones Act, formally known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, is a crucial piece of legislation that grants certain protections and benefits to maritime workers in the United States. Designed to safeguard the rights of seamen injured while working aboard vessels, the Jones Act provides them with a means to seek compensation for damages resulting from their injuries.

Navigating the complexities of Jones Act claims can be challenging. Many maritime workers make common mistakes that jeopardize their chances of obtaining fair compensation. In this article, the maritime injury lawyers at Kherkher Garcia, LLP discuss some of the most common errors made with Jones Act claims and provide guidance on how to avoid them.

What is a Jones Act Claim?

A Jones Act claim is a legal action, or lawsuit, that can be filed by a maritime worker who has been injured on the job. To be successful in a Jones Act claim, the worker must show that they were injured while working on a vessel that was “in navigation” and that their employer’s negligence caused their injuries. The worker must also show that they suffered actual damages, such as medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

In addition to negligence, a Jones Act claim can also be based on unseaworthiness. Unseaworthiness is a condition of the vessel that makes it unsafe for the worker to work on. If the worker can show that the vessel was unseaworthy and that their injuries were caused by the unseaworthiness, they may be able to recover compensation under the Jones Act.

The Jones Act provides maritime workers with the right to recover a wide range of damages, including:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering
  • Punitive damages

The amount of damages that a worker can recover under the Jones Act will depend on the severity of their injuries and the specific circumstances of their case.

Common Mistakes with Jones Act Claims

Legal matters can be complex, and it is easy for those who are inexperienced with the law to make mistakes that could affect their claims. Below, we discuss some of the common mistakes that occur when filing, or navigating through, a Jones Act claim.

Failing to Report Injuries Immediately

One of the most common mistakes maritime workers make with Jones Act claims is failing to report their injuries immediately after it occurs. Delaying the reporting of injuries can weaken the validity of your claim. Insurance companies may question whether the injury actually happened at work.

To ensure your claim stands on solid ground, report the incident to your supervisor or employer as soon as possible and seek medical attention promptly. Timely reporting will also help in preserving evidence related to the accident and/or injury.

Misunderstanding the Definition of “Seaman”

The Jones Act is specifically designed to protect “seamen” who are injured while working on a vessel in navigable waters. However, many workers mistakenly assume they qualify as seamen under the Jones Act, when they may be eligible for other types of compensation instead.

To be considered a seaman, an individual must have a substantial connection to a vessel and spend a significant amount of their time contributing to the vessel’s operation. Understanding this distinction is crucial, as it determines the appropriate legal avenue for compensation. Individuals who are not “seamen” may qualify for compensation under other maritime laws, such as the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA).

Relying on Employer-Provided Medical Care

Another common mistake with Jones Act claims is relying only on medical care provided by the employer or the employer’s preferred medical providers. While employers may offer medical assistance, they may prioritize cost-cutting over your best interests.

It is essential to consult an independent medical professional to assess your injuries and ensure you receive the appropriate treatment. This independent medical evaluation can significantly bolster your Jones Act claim and strengthen your case in negotiations or court.

Not Seeking Legal Representation

Attempting to handle a Jones Act claim without legal representation is a grave error that many maritime workers make. The legal process involved in Jones Act claims can be complex and challenging to navigate, especially if you are dealing with an uncooperative employer or insurance company. Working with an experienced maritime injury lawyer will provide you with expert guidance, protect your rights, and improve your chances of obtaining fair compensation for your injuries.

Overlooking Maintenance and Cure Benefits

Maintenance and cure benefits are two essential components of the Jones Act.

  • Maintenance refers to the daily living allowance that injured seamen are entitled to receive during their recovery period.
  • Cure covers the cost of medical treatment until the seaman reaches maximum medical improvement.

Many workers overlook these benefits or are not fully aware of their rights. This causes them to miss out on compensation they are entitled to receive.

Settling Too Early or for Insufficient Compensation

Rushing to settle a Jones Act claim without consulting a lawyer or before understanding the full extent of your injuries is a common and costly mistake. Once you settle, you forfeit your right to seek further compensation, even if your injuries worsen over time. Insurance companies may offer low settlement amounts to save costs, but these offers may not adequately cover your medical expenses, lost wages, and future damages. Having an attorney by your side will ensure you receive fair and just compensation for your injuries.

Tips to Avoid Common Jones Act Claim Mistakes

If you are an injured seaman exploring your rights and options for compensation, there are some things you can do to protect your rights and avoid common mistakes. Here are some tips to help you avoid mistakes with your Jones Act claim:

  1. Keep a detailed record of your injuries.This includes things like the date and time of the injury, the circumstances surrounding the injury, and any pain or symptoms you are experiencing.
  2. Keep Medical Records. Get copies of all medical records related to your injury. This includes your doctor’s notes, test results, and prescriptions.
  3. Save Employment Documents. Save any documentation related to your employment, such as your job description, pay stubs, and training records.
  4. Avoid over sharing. Do not talk to your employer or their insurance company without first speaking to a lawyer. Anything you say could be used against you in a legal case.

By following these tips, you can help to protect your rights and increase your chances of recovering fair compensation.

Get Help With Your Maritime Injury Claim

Navigating the waters of Jones Act claims can be treacherous, and making mistakes along the way can cost you dearly. When filing a Jones Act claim, it is important to fully understand the law, your rights, and the legal process. One of the best ways to ensure a successful claim is to work with a skilled maritime injury lawyer.

Get help with your claim by contacting the maritime injury lawyers at Kherkher Garcia. We can help you move through the Jones Act claim processes smoothly and successfully. With more than 30 years of experience helping maritime injury clients, we know what it takes to build a strong case and get the compensation that our clients deserve.

You can find out more about your legal rights and options, and how we can help, by contacting us for a free consultation. Call us at 713-333-1030, or fill out our online form to get started.

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Steve Kherkher

Steve Kherkher

Founding Partner and Trial Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Injury Trial Lawyer and Founding Firm Partner Steve Kherkher. Steve has been a practicing injury lawyer for more than 30 years. He has won $300 Million+ in Settlements and Verdicts for his clients. He is a force to be reckoned with in the courtroom and the trial lawyer you want on your side if you or a loved one have been catastrophically injured.

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