Houston Maritime Lawyer Advising and Representing Injured Offshore Workers
The conditions, equipment, and long distances from medical facilities make working on the water – maritime work – one of the most hazardous occupations. When someone who works at sea is injured, the rules for maritime workers’ compensation differ from the rules for the state and federal workers’ compensation programs.
Maritime law (or “admiralty law”) is the combination of U.S. laws and international law that governs almost all contracts, injuries, and offenses that take place on the water. Maritime law also governs most of the insurance claims and disputes that arise among shipowners, employees, and passengers.
The McNeal Law Firm and Houston maritime injury attorney David McNeal advise and represent maritime workers who have been injured while working offshore. Whether you were injured because of your employer’s negligence or by a third party’s negligence – or if you were injured on the water for some other reason – you are almost certainly entitled to compensation.
How Are Injured Maritime Workers Compensated?
The law creates two categories of maritime workers. The first category is “seamen,” employees including captains and crew members who work on fishing boats, cruise ships, or almost any boat or ship that is “in navigation.” The second category includes almost everyone else who works on or near the water but doesn’t meet the definition of a “seaman.”
When they are injured on the job, maritime workers in both categories have one or more of these options for compensation:
- The Jones Act
- The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act
- The unseaworthiness doctrine
- Maintenance and cure
What Does the Jones Act Provide?
The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, better known as the Jones Act, gives seamen who are injured on the job the right to sue employers for negligence and the right to recover damages. Under the Jones Act, a maritime employer must provide workers with a reasonably safe work environment and must maintain and keep in a reasonably safe condition the vessel where seaman are working.
Liability under the Jones Act is negligence-based, so the law encourages strict safety guidelines for offshore employers and the seamen who work for them. Recovery of damages under the Jones Act is restricted to current and future lost earnings, medical costs, personal pain and suffering, disability, and wrongful death.
What Does the Jones Act Require Injured Maritime Workers to Prove?
In a land-based personal injury case, the injured victim – the “plaintiff” – must prove, with an injury attorney’s help, that the defendant’s negligence was a direct cause of the plaintiff’s injury. Usually, this means that the defendant’s negligence was the main or sole cause of the plaintiff’s personal injury or injuries.
However, under the Jones Act, a plaintiff only needs to prove that the employer’s negligence was a contributing factor – however small – in the accident that caused the plaintiff’s injury. In a wrongful death claim under the Jones Act, a seaman’s family may recover damages only for the seaman’s conscious suffering and pain and for financial losses associated with the wrongful death.
What is the Unseaworthiness Doctrine?
With an unseaworthiness claim, an injured seaman or a deceased seaman’s family is entitled to all of the compensation available under the Jones Act and more. Other remedies that may be available with an unseaworthiness claim include but aren’t limited to the loss of consortium, and in wrongful death cases, additional non-monetary losses.
A maritime employer has an absolute duty to provide a seaworthy vessel, so to establish unseaworthiness, an injured seaman only needs to show that unseaworthiness existed and was a “substantial” cause of one or more personal injuries.
In practice, negligence usually accompanies unseaworthy conditions, but injured seamen do not have to prove negligence to recover damages with an unseaworthiness claim. In contrast, the Jones Act requires injured seamen – in order to recover damages – to prove that an employer was negligent.
How is Unseaworthiness Defined?
In maritime law, the word “unseaworthy” has a considerably expansive definition. An unseaworthy condition is defined as a condition that could have been remedied or avoided entirely by the employer/vessel owner such as a condition linked to the improper design, construction, or maintenance of the vessel.
The equipment might be defective, the crew may be unqualified, or the cargo may not have been properly loaded or secured. Lifting-related injuries are usually caused by slippery and improperly maintained or improperly designed decks and surfaces. For these reasons or others, a jury may determine that a vessel’s unseaworthiness was a main or contributory factor in a seaman’s injury.
What is Maintenance and Cure?
Maintenance and cure is a relatively simple, no-fault remedy which covers an injured seaman’s medical costs, wages until the vessel returns or the employment season ends, and room and board costs while the seaman is recuperating from an injury sustained while at work on the vessel. At sea, ill and injured seamen are legally entitled by law to maintenance and cure without regard to whether the injury or illness was linked to negligence or unseaworthiness.
If a seaman files an injury claim under the Jones Act or the unseaworthiness doctrine, the damages paid cannot include maintenance and cure benefits. In other words, medical costs paid under maintenance and cure cannot be recovered again with an unseaworthiness claim or a Jones Act claim.
If you are injured while working as a seaman, report your injury as quickly as possible to the employer (or to the captain or owner of the vessel), take advantage of the available maintenance and cure benefits, and contact The McNeal Law Firm in Houston at your first opportunity.
If you suffered anything more serious than the most minor scrapes and bruises, let’s talk about it. It’s likely that you can be compensated under the Jones Act or the unseaworthiness doctrine.
What About Maritime Workers Who Are Not Seamen?
The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) is a federal statute that governs workers’ compensation for maritime workers and other employees who work on or near the water but who are not seamen – that is, not the members of a vessel’s crew.
Workers who are covered by the LHWCA include harbor workers, longshoremen, and almost anyone else who works on docks or at shipping terminals or shipyards. According to the U.S. Department of Labor:
“The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) is a federal law that provides for the payment of compensation, medical care, and vocational rehabilitation services to employees disabled from on-the-job injuries that occur on the navigable waters of the United States, or in adjoining areas customarily used in the loading, unloading, repairing, or building of a vessel.”
The LHWCA also provides for survivor benefits if a maritime work-related injury causes or contributes to a worker’s wrongful death. The LHWCA defines “injury” to include illnesses, occupational diseases, and hearing loss arising from maritime employment.
How Do You Pursue Compensation Under the LHWCA?
If you believe that you qualify for benefits under the LHWCA, or if you’re not sure, arrange a case review with The McNeal Law Firm. Houston maritime injury attorney David McNeal will review the circumstances of your injury and provide candid legal advice. If you move forward with a claim for compensation, attorney David McNeal will handle every aspect of the case and walk you step-by-step through the legal process.
If you are injured doing any type of maritime work, seek medical attention immediately and report your injury as quickly as possible to your employer, captain, or vessel owner. In most cases, the LHWCA also requires an injured maritime worker to report a work-related injury to the federal Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs within thirty days.
There are several narrow exceptions to that thirty-day deadline, but in any event, you will need to have an attorney’s advice as soon as possible after you’ve been injured and you’ve received medical treatment.
After a Maritime Accident, Can You Choose Your Own Doctor?
After a maritime injury, your employer may insist that you are required to see a doctor that the employer chooses. That may or may not be the case. It depends on the type of maritime injury claim you are making. Injured seamen may choose their own doctors. The Jones Act gives injured seamen considerable freedom to make their own medical choices.
An injured longshoreman, harbor worker, or any other maritime worker who brings an injury claim under the LHWCA must choose a doctor from an approved list or obtain the approval of the employer – or a judge – to see a doctor who is not on that list.
In almost all maritime injury cases, the doctor’s conclusions regarding the nature and extent of your injury or injuries can make the difference. The doctor’s opinion on when and if you can return to your job and what ongoing medical care you will require can determine the value of your injury claim.
If you disagree with the doctor’s conclusions, take your concerns to Houston maritime accident attorney David McNeal, and he will explain your rights and options.
Attorney David McNeal Has Hands-On Maritime Work Experience
At The McNeal Law Firm, our legal team has respect and admiration for those who live and work in the offshore environment. Attorney David McNeal has actual Offshore Supply Vessel (OSV) and Ultra Deepwater drilling rig work experience in the Gulf of Mexico. He was a shipboard officer responsible for inspecting safety equipment and maintaining safety standards, so he knows first-hand the very real dangers that maritime workers face.
Attorney David McNeal is proud to provide quality legal advice and services to injured maritime workers. Call The McNeal Law Firm at (832) 819-3281 to learn more, to schedule a no-cost, no-obligation evaluation of your case, or to begin the legal process. If you have been injured on the water, The McNeal Law Firm knows what it takes to recover the compensation you need.