Maritime Worker Injuries - The Basics

Start here to understand maritime workers' rights and legal options after an on-the-job injury.

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There are two basic types of maritime workers: in the first group are those workers who qualify as "seamen," and in the second group is basically everyone else who works on or near the water. The type of compensation that an injured maritime worker can receive depends on which group they are in. In this article, we'll cover some key considerations when it comes to workplace injuries in the maritime industry.

Who is a Seaman?

In general, a seaman is a person who spends a significant amount of his/her time working as a crewmember or a captain on a vessel (almost any kind of ship or boat) that is considered “in navigation.” For more information about who is a seaman, please see Who Qualifies As A Seaman Under The Jones Act?.

What Compensation is an Injured Seaman Entitled to?

Unlike almost all other employees, injured seamen are not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits under either state or federal law. Instead, an injured seaman is entitled to three separate types of compensation and/or damages under federal law.

First, an injured seaman is entitled to sue his/her employer for negligence under a federal law called the Jones Act. Second, an injured seaman is entitled to sue the owner of the vessel on which he/she was injured for damages under the federal maritime doctrine of unseaworthiness. Third, an injured seaman is entitled to receive what is called maintenance and cure, regardless of whose fault the injury was. Let’s take a brief look at each of these three types of damages.

Negligence Under The Jones Act

The Jones Act is a federal law that gives seamen who were injured in the course of their employment the right to sue their employer for negligence damages. Under the Jones Act, a maritime employer must:

  • provide the seaman with a reasonably safe place to work, and
  • use ordinary care to under the circumstances to maintain and keep the vessel on which the seaman works in a reasonably safe condition.

These are very strict requirements. Almost any unsafe condition on a vessel, however small, can lead to liability under the Jones Act.

A very important part of the Jones Act is its unusually low burden of proving that the employer’s negligence caused the seaman’s injury. In standard negligence cases such as car accident cases, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s negligence was the main cause of the plaintiff’s injury.

But under the Jones Act, the injured seaman need only prove that the employer’s negligence played any part however small in the plaintiff's injuries. This means that the plaintiff would still be entitled to recover damages against a Jones Act employer as long as the employer’s negligence was even a 1% cause of the injury.

Learn more about Making a Jones Act Claim.

Unseaworthiness

Under maritime law, a seaworthy vessel is a ship whose hull, equipment and crew are reasonably adequate in design, maintenance and character to perform their intended functions in the operation of the ship.

Unseaworthiness does not necessarily mean that the vessel cannot sail or be navigated. A vessel is unseaworthy with respect to a seaman if it does not provide him with safe and suitable appliances with which to perform his work, and if it does not afford him a safe place in which to work.

An important aspect of the law of seaworthiness is that it has nothing to do with negligence. The vessel owner will be liable for an unseaworthy vessel even if the owner acted reasonably. If the vessel or any part of it was not fit for its intended function, it is unseaworthy, period.

Learn more about Unseaworthiness and Maritime Law.

Maintenance and Cure

Maintenance and cure is a very old aspect of maritime law that requires a maritime employer to provide care for injured seamen regardless of whose fault the injury was.

Maintenance means the room and board of the injured seaman while he/she is recovering from an injury. Maintenance includes such expenses as the seaman’s rent or mortgage, utilities, property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, and food, but not things like telephone, internet, or car payments.

Cure is the injured seaman's medical expenses. The employer must pay the injured seaman maintenance and cure until the seaman reaches a point of maximum medical improvement.

Maritime Workers Who are Not Seamen are Covered by the Longshore Act

The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act is a federal workers’ compensation act that governs workers’ compensation for maritime employees, among other types of employees.

The Longshore Act covers the majority of employees who work on or near the water and who are not seamen (i.e., who are not members of a crew of a vessel).

The types of employees who are covered by the Longshore Act are people like longshoremen, harbor workers, and most other people who work on docks and in shipping terminals or shipyards. For more information on exactly who is covered by the Longshore Act, please see The LHWCA - an Overview.

What Types of Benefits Does the Longshore Act Provide?

The Longshore Act is a standard workers’ compensation act, not unlike state workers’ compensation acts. A very important difference between the Longshore Act and most state workers’ compensation acts is that the Longshore Act generally provides more compensation to the injured worker than most state workers’ compensation acts do. Let's look at some examples of this.

First, temporary total disability benefits under many state workers’ compensation laws are only 60% of the employee’s average weekly wage, while they are 66 2/3% under the Longshore Act.

Second, many state workers’ compensation acts do not provide compensation for workers who have a permanent partial disability, while the Longshore Act does provide coverage for this class of disability.

Learn more about Making a Claim Under the LHWCA.

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