In maritime law, there are two types of workers. The first are those who qualify as “seamen.” The second worker that is classified by maritime law is anyone else who works on or near the water. The type of compensation for injuries available to people who work on the sea is dependent upon which group they belong in. When you are injured at sea, there are very specific rules about how the injuries are covered and which ones are eligible for compensation according to maritime laws.
The definition of a “seaman”
One of the key classifications for a maritime lawyer is, who is considered a “seaman” versus who is not. A “seaman” is classified as anyone who spends a significant portion of their time working as either a crew person or a captain on a ship, boat, or any other type of vessel that is in motion or in navigation. For a vessel to be considered “in navigation” it must be:
- On water
- Capable of moving on water
It doesn’t have to necessarily be in motion; it just has to have the potential to be on the water in order for a person working on it to be considered a “seaman.” A vessel can be docked and still be “in navigation,” but it can’t be offshore or off the water.
What type of compensation are you entitled to as a seaman?
Workers’ compensation excludes seaman under both state and federal laws. As they are in a classification all their own, sea workers have a different type of compensation coverage, and their injuries are both classified and covered under different federal law mandates. Unlike employees beholden to workers’ compensation benefits, seamen have the right to sue their employer for personal injury or negligence under the federal law known as the Jones Act.
Another difference between seamen and employees in other industries is that the seaman can sue the ship or boat owner for any injuries that they receive while at sea or working in the capacity of a seaman under maritime law.
Finally, seamen have the additional benefit of receiving compensation for “maintenance and cure,” which isn’t contingent upon fault or negligence on behalf of the vessel owner. Regardless of who was at fault, they are entitled to have their damages compensated.
What is negligence according to the Jones Act?
The Jones Act trumps workers’ compensation when it comes to seamen. A seaman is eligible to sue their employer if the negligence of their employer leads to injury. Under the Jones Act, the employer has an obligation to:
- Use ordinary care to maintain the sea vessel to ensure that the seamen who work on it are reasonably cared for and to prevent injury
- Provide their employees a safe working environment
There are strict rules in place regarding the vessel’s safety. The Jones Act is very liberal regarding negligence. Many things can be considered negligence, due to the low burden of proof that is necessary when suing an employer for fault on a vessel.
Under the Jones Act, the proof typically lies on the vessel owner to prove that there wasn’t a negligent act, rather than the onus being on the plaintiff to prove that there was. It’s a completely different standard from other personal injury cases, because the favor is on the seaman in most instances.
What are maintenance and cure?
A very old and traditional component to maritime law is that the employer is obligated to provide financial care for any employee who is injured, regardless of who is at fault for the injury. “Maintenance” is an obligation that means the owner has to provide the employee with a place to live while they are recovering from an injury.
It also includes expenses paid for the injured person such as property taxes, mortgage payments, homeowner’s insurance and food. Things that aren’t included are extras like internet and television.
“Cure” means the injured seaman’s medical bills are the obligation of the vessel owner. The owner must pay for the employee until such time that the employee can maintain their own care and expenses, and the time period for this can be limitless.
Maritime law was created in the 1920s to protect those who worked at sea. Preempting workers’ compensation, those who work at sea are covered in different and sometimes much more beneficial ways, including not having to prove fault and having the ability to sue one’s employer.