What Compensation is Available Under the Jones Act?

An explanation of the different types of damages available to an injured seaman under the Jones Act.

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The Jones Act is a federal law that gives an injured seaman the right to sue their employer and get compensation after an on-the-job injury. But what kinds of compensation are available when you're making a claim under the Jones Act? We'll cover that in this article.

Damages Available Under the Jones Act

Under the Jones Act, an injured seaman is entitled to recover damages for:

  • lost earnings and lost earning capacity
  • past, present, and future, medical expenses, and
  • past, present, and future, pain, suffering, and mental anguish.

Let’s look at these classes of damages individually.

Lost Earnings and Lost Earning Capacity

Lost earnings and lost earning capacity refer to the earnings that the injured seaman has lost, is losing, and will lose as a result of the injury. Lost earnings and lost earning capacity also includes any employment benefits such as health insurance, vacation time, pension or 401(k) contributions, that the injured seaman may have lost or is reasonably likely to lose in the future as a result of the injury.

If the seaman has strong enough evidence, the seaman may also be able to claim damages for future promotions that he/she is likely to lose because of the injury.

Calculating Past Lost Earnings. To calculate past lost earnings, the seaman simply needs to add up the earnings and employment benefits that he/she lost from being out of work. If, for example, you earned $70,000 per year, plus $10,000 of fringe benefits, and were out of work for one year, you lost $80,000.

Calculating Future Lost Earnings and Lost Earnings Capacity. This is more difficult and often requires the plaintiff’s lawyer to hire a professional economist to perform the necessary calculations. But let’s take a brief look at it. Let’s say that you suffered an injury that prevented you from returning to your old job. Let’s say that you used to earn $60,000 per year including benefits, but that, after your injury, you will only be able to earn $30,000 per year including benefits. Your lost earning capacity is thus $30,000 per year for the remainder of your work life expectancy.

Now we have to determine what your work life expectancy is. Work life expectancy is a statistical measure of how many more years a person is reasonably expected to work, based on that person’s age, sex, and race. Work life expectancy is based on federal government statistics. So, in order to calculate your work life expectancy, you simply look at the federal government’s chart.

Figuring Out Present Value. Because lost earning capacity involves a calculation of losses that may extend for many years into the future, it has to be calculated in terms of its present value. Present value is a financial concept that involves determining the value of a future stream of income (i.e., your weekly paycheck) as if it were all in a bank account today. In other words, how much money does your employer need in a bank account today in order to pay you your salary for, say, the next twenty years?

This is a very complex financial calculation that lay people cannot perform. If you have a serious claim for future lost earnings, your lawyer will almost always hire an economist to perform these calculations.

Medical and Other Health Care Expenses

Medical bills and expenses include not just the bills that the injured seaman incurred for his/her past medical and health care treatment, but also the bills that he/she is reasonably likely to incur for future medical treatment.

An injured seaman is entitled to recover for just about every type of reasonably accepted health care treatment, as well as reasonable transportation expenses to get to the treatment. This includes physical therapy, occupational therapy, vocational therapy, massage therapy, full time nursing care, mental health treatment and counseling, and acupuncture, among other types of treatment.

Bottom line: As long as the seaman’s physician has given a medical opinion that the treatment is necessary, an injured seaman is entitled to make a claim for reimbursement for that treatment.

Pain and Suffering

Pain and suffering can be broken down into physical and mental pain and suffering. Physical pain and suffering is the pain of the injured seaman’s actual physical injuries, as well as the pain and suffering from scarring, disfigurement, and permanency of the injuries.

Mental pain and suffering includes things like mental anguish, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, fear, anger, humiliation, anxiety, and shock. Significant mental pain and suffering can also cause severe anger, appetite loss, lack of energy, sexual dysfunction, loss of interest in sex, mood swings, and/or sleep disturbances. Very severe mental pain and suffering can even constitute post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Injured seamen are entitled to recover damages for all pain, suffering, and mental anguish suffered as a result of the defendant’s actions.

How to Calculate Pain and Suffering

There are no guidelines for determining the value of an injured seaman’s pain and suffering. A jury cannot look at a chart to figure out how much to award for pain and suffering. Most judges in Jones Act cases simply instruct juries to use their good sense, background, and experience in determining what would be a fair and reasonable figure to compensate for the plaintiff’s pain and suffering.

You may have read about a “multiplier” in personal injury cases, including maritime cases. Using a “multiplier” means that insurance companies calculate pain and suffering as being worth some multiple of the injured seaman’s lost earnings and medical bills. You should be aware that the multiplier concept is only a very rough estimate because there are so many other factors that affect the valuation of damages in a Jones Act case.

Learn more about Maritime Worker Injuries and the Jones Act.

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