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Seamen's Personal Injury Claims

Were you or a family member a seaman who was injured or died? What can you do? What does the law provide? Was someone negligent? Was the harm foreseeable? Does the law recognize a remedy, and if so, what remedies are available? Are damages an available remedy? What can you do? 


The Jones Act:

The Jones Act, also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, is a federal statute that provides crucial rights and protections to seamen. The main purpose of the Jones Act is to support a strong maritime industry and to provide protection for seamen, who are typically vulnerable to the unique dangers and conditions present in their line of work.

Purpose:

The Jones Act is rooted in the legal principle of protecting seamen due to the perils of the sea. The Act provides seamen with the right to seek damages from their employers for injuries suffered on the job, a right not traditionally granted under general maritime law. The Jones Act does this by extending the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA), which protects railway workers, to cover seamen. This provision, in particular, helps to cover the gap in workers' compensation laws, which generally do not apply to seamen.

Under the Jones Act, an injured seaman can make a claim against their employer for negligence, and they can also make a claim against the vessel's owner (often the employer) that the vessel was unseaworthy. Both these rights to compensation can lead to significantly greater damages than would be available under standard workers' compensation schemes.

History:

The Jones Act was named after Senator Wesley Jones, who introduced the bill. Enacted in 1920, the Act was designed to accomplish two main goals: to support the U.S. maritime industry, and to provide specific rights and remedies to American seamen who get injured on the job.

Prior to the Jones Act, seamen who were injured at work had few legal remedies. The harshness of the sea and the nature of the seamen's work created an environment in which accidents were common and often severe. The Jones Act was, thus, seen as an important protection for seamen, giving them important rights and providing a means for them to seek compensation when they are injured.

The Act was a significant improvement on previous laws, as it allowed seamen to file a lawsuit against their employers for injury or death due to negligence, something not previously permitted. It was an integral part of a broader movement during the early 20th century to improve workers' rights and workplace safety.

It's also worth noting that, in addition to its protections for seamen, the Jones Act contains provisions intended to protect the U.S. maritime industry. For example, it requires that goods shipped between U.S. ports be transported on ships that are built, owned, and operated by United States citizens.

In summary, the Jones Act plays a vital role in both protecting the rights and safety of seamen and in supporting the U.S. maritime industry.

Claims under the Jones Act:

“‘A seaman is entitled to recovery under the Jones Act ... if his employer's negligence is the cause, in whole or in part, of his injury.’ Randle v. Crosby Tugs, L.L.C., 911 F.3d 280, 283 (5th Cir. 2018) (quoting Gautreaux v. Scurlock Marine, Inc., 107 F.3d 331, 335 (5th Cir. 1997) (en banc)). ‘An employer 'has a continuing duty to provide a reasonably safe place to work and to use ordinary care to maintain the vessel in a reasonably safe condition.’ Lett v. Omega Protein, Inc., 487 Fed. Appx. 839, 843 (5th Cir. 2012). ‘The standard of causation in Jones Act cases is not demanding.’ Gowdy v. Marine Spill Response Corporation, 925 F.3d 200, 205 (5th Cir. 2019). The terms "slightest" and "featherweight" have been used to describe the reduced standard of causation between the employer's negligence and the employee's injury. Johnson v. Offshore Express, Inc., 845 F.2d 1347, 1352 (5th Cir. 1988). Indeed, a claim under the Jones Act requires only that employer negligence "played any part, even the slightest, in producing the injury." Gowdy, 925 F.3d. at 205. Guidry v. Epic Diving & Marine Servs., LLC, 411 F. Supp. 3d 389, 394

Unseaworthiness Claims:

“Independent  from a claim under the Jones Act, a seaman has a claim under the general maritime law for injuries caused by the unseaworthiness of a vessel. ‘Unseaworthiness is a claim under general maritime law based on the vessel owner's duty to ensure that the vessel is reasonably fit to be at sea.’ Beech v. Hercules Drilling Co., L.L.C., 691 F.3d 566, 570 (5th Cir. 2012). ‘There is a more demanding standard of causation in an unseaworthiness claim than in a Jones Act negligence claim.’ Johnson v. Offshore Express, Inc., 845 F.2d 1347, 1354 (5th Cir. 1988). An unseaworthiness claim requires proximate causation, and ‘a plaintiff must prove that the unseaworthy condition played a substantial part in bringing about or actually causing the injury and that the injury was either a direct result or a reasonably probable consequence of the unseaworthiness.’” Guidry v. Epic Diving & Marine Servs., LLC, 411 F. Supp. 3d 389, 394-395

It is important to note that the specific details and limitations of personal injury or wrongful death claims may vary. Fred Dietrich has experience litigating Jones Act and unseaworthiness claims. If you or someone you know was a seaman who was injured or died, The Dietrich Law Firm may be able to help. Give us a call to schedule an appointment. The firm only represents clients based upon a signed, written agreement. The firm sometimes offers a free, no obligation, initial, in-office consultation. 

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