January 13, 2016

What’s the Difference Between a Jones Act Claim and Workers’ Compensation?

The Jones Act is a federal law that protects U.S. import ships from foreign competition. It also grants sailors the right to sue their employer when they are injured due to negligence or unseaworthiness.  Workers’ compensation is a type of insurance that provides medical payments and lost wages to employees who are injured on the job site.

The first difference between a Jones Act claim and workers’ compensation is their intent. The Jones Act was created to allow injured employees the right to sue their employer for negligence, while workers’ compensation was created to deter negligence torts from injured employees.

The second difference is in who is eligible to file a Jones Act claim. Workers’ compensation applies to those who work on land. The Jones Act and the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Comp Act applies to maritime industry employees.

Who Is Eligible to File a Jones Act Claim?

To be eligible to file a Jones Act claim, you must be employed as a vessel’s crewmember, and have spent 30 percent of your career on a vessel.  A “vessel” here means a ship operating in navigable waters. The second requirement is that you are able to prove your injury was due, in some part, to negligence by your employer or anyone else working on the vessel. The unseaworthiness of the vessel where the injury occurred is the third requirement of a Jones Act claim.

Compensation for pain, suffering and lost wages hinges on the ability to prove your employer at fault for the injury. For example, a seaman who suffers third-degree burns from malfunctioning electrical equipment could file a Jones Act claim against his employer.

Under the Jones Act, a seaman or crewmember who contracts a work-related illness or injury is covered by Maintenance and Cure. This provision covers the cost of medical treatment, lost wages, and room and board during recovery. So, this same seaman who was badly burned would have the cost of his medical treatment, physical therapy and living expenses covered until he was able to return to work. In this way, the act is very similar to workers’ compensation.

Maintenance and Cure covers medical and living expenses up until the employee is fully recovered and able to return to work. But what if the injury is so severe, returning to work as a seaman is impossible? The Jones Act allows seamen to recover a higher amount of monetary compensation for pain and suffering, as well as future wages and health expenses in the event of severe injuries like loss of limb, paralysis or wrongful death.

In a workers’ compensation claim, medical expenses, lost wages, and benefits are given to eligible employees who have been injured on the job, no matter who is at fault.  As an injured employee, you cannot file a lawsuit for further punitive damages against your employer, even if the injury can be directly tied to their negligence.

In addition, Workers’ comp is run at the state level, which sets caps on the benefits injured workers are allowed. The Texas Department of Insurance is responsible for setting insurance rates and maximum compensation standards for Houston’s resident employees.

How a Maritime Attorney Can Help

A Jones Act claim allows an injured worker the possibility of winning more compensation and benefits than a workers’ comp claim or a Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Comp claim.  However, filing a Jones Act claim and collecting the necessary evidence to prove negligence can be complex and frustrating. The professional opinion of an attorney knowledgeable in maritime law can help you successfully navigate Jones Act claims, as well as workers’ comp claims to help decide which works best for you.

Find out how the experienced maritime attorneys of Pierce | Skrabanek can help you. We have secured multi-million dollar settlements for past clients for Jones Act and other maritime cases. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.

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