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Jones Act versus workers' compensation: Know the differences

The process of obtaining compensation for a work injury is very different for maritime workers.
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    February 28, 2014 /24-7PressRelease/ -- Jones Act versus workers' compensation: Know the differences

Article provided by The Krist Law Firm, P.C.
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If you have been injured in a work accident, you likely need compensation to cover things like medical bills and lost wages. But, if you are a qualifying maritime employee, the legal framework for obtaining compensation for a work injury is significantly different than that for workers injured in a land-based occupation.

No fault in workers' comp case, but more damages available in Jones Act claims

Under workers' comp laws, an occupational injury or illness is compensable by the employer -- or the employer's insurer -- regardless of fault. Since fault is generally not an issue in a workers' compensation case, it means that injured workers do not have to prove their employer was negligent in causing their injuries. Workers' compensation benefits include payment of medical bills and partial wage replacement.

In return for a guarantee of workers' compensation benefits regardless of fault, employees are barred from suing their employer for negligence. While this no-fault scheme ensures some compensation, it does not fully compensate a worker for his injuries. It is worth noting that even if a worker is prohibited from suing his or her employer or coworkers for an on-the-job injury, the worker may still file a negligence claim against any third parties who bear responsibility for causing the injury, such as contractors.

However, the compensation structure available to sailors and other maritime workers differs significantly from workers' comp. The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, better known as the Jones Act, codifies the right of sailors to bring legal claims against ship owners for negligence or unseaworthiness of a vessel. Unlike a workers' comp case, fault is at issue in a Jones Act case. Under the Jones Act, when a maritime worker is injured within the scope of his or her employment, that worker is entitled to monetary damages if the ship owner breached a duty to the worker and in doing so caused the harm.

Even when an employer's wrongful conduct was only partially to blame for causing a maritime accident, compensation may be available. Furthermore, almost any hazardous condition on a ship, from a deck slick with oil to improperly trained coworkers, can give rise to liability.

Of course, a required showing of fault can make claims under the Jones Act more complex than standard workers' compensation cases. Another caveat is that a worker must qualify as a "Jones Act seaman" to sue a ship's owner for negligence or unseaworthiness. Generally, a Jones Act seaman is committed to spending at least 30 percent of work time aboard a vessel on navigable waters.

While cases brought under the Jones Act do not share the no-fault aspect of a workers' compensation claim, they have one distinct advantage: Jones Act cases enable a worker to be fully compensated for their injuries.

Contact a lawyer experienced in maritime and admiralty law

Whether your injury occurred on land or at sea, it is important to explore the full range of compensation that may be available. Depending on the unique circumstances of your injury and your employment, the Jones Act, workers' compensation laws or some other benefit system entirely could be applicable. If you have suffered an injury or illness in the course of your employment, get in touch with a personal injury attorney today, and if the harm arose within the maritime industry, be sure to contact a lawyer experienced in navigating the murky waters of laws applicable to maritime employees.

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