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Articles Posted in Commercial Fishermen Claims

Injured-Jones-Act-Seaman-LawsuitWhen bringing a lawsuit dealing with an injured Jones Act seaman claim, much thought must be given to what court system, federal or state, the lawsuit should be filed and whether it is preferable to have a judge or jury decide the facts of the case. Maritime law affords injured seaman several options each of which has its pros and cons. In the case of Bell v. Westbank Fishing LLC, the decision was made to file the seaman’s injury claim in federal court without asking for a jury. Once filed in the federal court, Westbank, the defendant employer, filed formal demand seeking a jury, not the federal judge, decide the facts of the case, if it was liable for the accident, and if so, how much compensation the injured seaman is entitled to receive.

The Injured Seaman Has the Right to Demand a Jury Trial

The injured seaman sought to strike his employer’s jury demand arguing his employer has no legal right to a jury trial because of the way the compliant invoked the federal court’s jurisdiction. The complaint filed by the seaman indicated that the court had jurisdiction by what is known as a federal question. Federal courts have jurisdiction to decide claim brought under a federal statute. The Jones Act, which provides injured seamen a negligence claim against their employers, is a federal statute. The complaint was silent as to any other basis of federal jurisdiction. The employer argued that when jurisdiction is based upon the Jones Act, both the injured seaman and the employer have a right to demand a jury. The employer also argued that it has a Constitutional right to a jury trial under the Seventh Amendment to the Constitution.

Jones Act Claim Rough Seas.jpgUnder the Jones Act, an employer has the duty to provide its seaman employees with a reasonably safe place to work. An employer breaches that duty if it does not act with ordinary prudence. In other words, if a maritime employer disregards a danger that it knew or should have known and that danger causes a crewmember’s injury, it will be found liable under the Jones Act. Generally, an employer violates the Jones Act when it fails to maintain an area such as a deck, fails to properly instruct an employee on how to safely go about performing his job duties or does not provide the crewmember with appropriate safety gear. These situations, though common, are not the only ways an employer can breach its duty owed to its crewmembers.

Another way an employer can violate the Jones Act is through navigational errors or omissions by the ship’s captain. In a recent case, a court found that a jury can decide if the captain’s decision of keeping the vessel “in the field” during rough weather instead of seeking protected waters constitutes a violation of the employer’s Jones Act duty. In the case, the crewmember seaman fell down a ladder in heavy seas after being order by the captain to go inside the vessel. The court reasoned the decision to keep the vessel in rough seas combined with the captain’s order for the crewmember to go inside is enough evidence for a jury to return a verdict in the seaman’s favor and denied the employer’s motion to find no liability.

Crew Member Jones Act Lawyer.jpgGiven the nature of working aboard ships, many times captains or officers require crew to undertake jobs which they are not physically suited to perform. Often times, crew members are already sick or injured, and due to short staffing, are required to continue their job duties. Our maritime attorneys have represented crew members whose doctors restricted the amount they could lift and hours they could work; however, when they returned to the ship for “restricted duty”, their employers required them to work as if no physical restrictions were ordered.

The question these injured crew members have is whether their employers are liable when they are hurt performing a job that is too physically demanding. The answer is YES.

The Jones Act requires cruise lines and shipping companies to use reasonable care to prevent injuries to crew members serving aboard their vessels. Courts have routinely found the Jones Act imposes a duty upon employers to assign seamen to jobs for which they are reasonable suited. If a crew member is injured performing a job for which he/she is not physically capable of doing, the employer is liable for the injury. Damages under the Jones Act include, pain and suffering, loss of the enjoyment of life, lost wages and disfigurement.

Our lawyers routinely handle cases where the crew members’ conditions worsen or new injuries occur due to the substandard medical treatment of the doctors selected by their employers.

Doctor.jpgUnder maritime law, an employer has the duty to provide prompt, proper and adequate medical treatment to its sick and injured crew members. This means an employer is required to promptly select a suitable doctor for its injured crew members. Should the employer fail to carry out its duty, and the crew member’s condition worsens or new injuries arise, the employer is liable for those injuries. For example, should a crew member sustain an eye injury, and the employer selects a general practitioner who is not suitable to treat an eye injury, the employer will be liable should the crew member loose eyesight.

Furthermore, an employer is obligated to closely monitor the crew member’s medical care and intervene if the doctor provided is inadequate. This means if the doctor is not properly diagnosing and/or treating the sickness or injury, the employer has the duty to find another doctor who can properly care for the crew member.

In recent years, courts have begun to find employers strictly liable for the medical malpractice of the doctors they select even though there was nothing in the doctor’s past which could alert them that the doctor may not be suited to treat the injured crew member.

The bottom line is crew members have the right to be sent to qualified doctors should they get sick or hurt when subject to the call of duty. If the employer fails to provide quality doctors, they will become liable for any poor result.
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Shrimp Boat Wrongful Death.jpgCommercial fishing is the most dangerous occupation in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported during 1992-2008 an average of 58 deaths occurred annually. This equates to a staggering 128 deaths per 100,000 workers! Thankfully, maritime law protects the rights of the loved ones of fishermen who unfortunately lost their lives while working the sea.

Jones Act Negligence

One of the methods families of deceased fishermen can seek recourse is through the Jones Act. The Jones Act is a federal statute which allows the personal representative of fishermen’s estates, spouses and dependent children to bring negligence claims against the employers. A lawsuit brought on behalf of a fisherman’s estate is known as a “Survival Claim”. A lawsuit brought by the family of a deceased fisherman is a “Wrongful Death” claim. Survival and Wrongful Death claims under the Jones Act can only be brought if the accident occurred upon inland waterways or within 3 nautical miles from shore. Deaths resulting from accidents occurring beyond 3 nautical miles can only be brought under the Death on the High Seas Act. (See our article entitled Commercial Fishermen Wrongful Death and Survival Claims under the Death on the High Seas Act)

batch_of_dollars.jpgWe are often contacted by crew members who were discharged from employment but were not paid all owed wages. Should this happen, you may be entitled to 2 times the wages for each day the ship owner fails to make payment.

Crew Members Employed on American Ships

The Seaman’s Penalty Wage Act provides crew members serving aboard American Ships who are discharged in any port without being paid all earned wages within 4 days the right to sue the ship owner for earned wages plus 2 days wages for each day payment is delayed! This statutory right is provided to both American and non-American crew members. For example, a crew member from Honduras who was discharged in Miami without being paid all earned wages can bring a claim under the Penalty Wage Act.