The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, or the Jones Act, is a federal maritime law protecting seamen and allowing for the filing of claims for damages in the event of accidents and injuries. The law gives seamen the right to file a lawsuit against an employer if the injury was caused by negligence. In order to file this lawsuit you must meet several qualifications and you need the expertise of a Jones Act lawyer. Make sure you understand the rules, qualifications, and claims process and that you hire an experienced and knowledgeable lawyer before starting a lawsuit.
Qualifications for a Jones Act Lawsuit
Before you can file a lawsuit, you need to know that you and your situation qualify you for making a claim. According to the Jones Act, a qualifying seaman is one who spends at least 30 percent of his or her working time on a vessel, contributing to the functioning of that vessel, and that the injury in question occurred on the vessel while it was on navigable waters. It does not have to have been moving, but in the water at dock at least.
The other major qualification is that the injury you suffered was the result of negligence. This may be proven in the lawsuit, but know that you will not win damages if it cannot be proven. Examples of situations in which an employer has been negligent and is liable for damages include:
- Not properly maintaining equipment
- Allowing a physical assault by another employee
- Keeping a messy deck that causes accidents
- Not maintaining the seaworthiness of the vessel
- Not providing adequate training for employees
The first step in preparing for a Jones Act lawsuit is to find a lawyer with experience in making Jones Act claims and litigating. Experience and knowledge are important qualities to look for in a lawyer because maritime law is a complicated specialty and claims often lead to litigation in order to be settled.
Proving negligence on the part of an employer is usually more straightforward and easier than in other cases of personal injury, but you still want to be well prepared. You and your lawyer need only prove that your employer shares one percent of the responsibility for your injury. Make sure you have proper documentation for your claim, including the accident report, your medical records and bills, ship logs, and any other documents your lawyer deems important.
Your preparation should also include knowledge of the damages you may be eligible to receive. Depending on your situation, there are a number of possible types of compensation you may receive, including damages for:
- Pain and suffering, both mental and physical
- Lost wages, both present and future earnings
- Medical expenses, both for present and future needs
- Lost ability to perform the tasks you once did
- Permanent disfigurement
- Punitive damages, if your employer showed reckless disregard for safety
How to Fund a Jones Act Lawsuit
Funding a lawsuit is expensive. As you fight for the damages you deserve, you may be paying expensive medical bills, lawyer fees, for medical opinions, and for the testimony of experts to make your case. If you don’t have the money to cover all of these expenses it may seem impossible to start a lawsuit, but you do have a funding source available to you. Your lawyer can tell you about Jones Act funding which gives you access to loans that you can use to fund your case.
You can learn from the experiences of others by avoiding the common mistakes made when bringing together a lawsuit. If you are aware of and can avoid these errors, you have a better chance of bringing a successful claim and getting the damages you deserve:
Waiting to Report an Injury
Whenever you are injured on the job, whether you immediately believe you have a valid Jones Act claim or not, you should report it right away. Report the accident to your supervisor and make sure that he or she fills out an official and complete accident report. This document is crucial in a lawsuit and offers more validity to the case when it is completed right after the accident. Worse yet, if you wait too long to report an injury, you may miss your window for filing a claim.
Going Back to Work too Soon
Going back to work before your doctor recommends that you do so can harm you when you seek damages in court. Your employer may try to claim that you were fine because you were able to work again so quickly. You also don’t want to go back too soon and make your injury worse. Make sure you have a few medical opinions on whether you can return to work before you do so.
Trusting the Wrong Lawyer
Maritime law is a complicated legal specialty and you should not trust your lawsuit to anyone with little to no experience in this field. A general personal injury lawyer will not understand all the ins and outs of the Jones Act and will not give you the best possible advice. Only hire a lawyer who specializes in maritime law and who has filed, litigated and won Jones Act lawsuits for other seamen.
Signing Away Your Rights
The time period after a work injury can be stressful and confusing. An employer and their insurance company may do their best to convince you to sign documents that release them from liability. Get your accident report in immediately, but don’t sign anything else from your employer until you have spoken to your lawyer. It’s also important that you don’t allow your employer to record your testimony without your lawyer present. They may try to make you say something that would benefit their case in a lawsuit.
Filing a lawsuit can be complicated and confusing, which is why you need the right legal advice. You should be knowledgeable and understand your rights under the Act, but it is also important to have professional guidance. Find an experienced Jones Act lawyer for advice and to help you make your case and you have the best chance of winning damages.