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Navigating Maritime Law: Personal Injury Claims for Offshore Workers and Seamen

Posted in Workplace Injuries on July 24, 2023

Louisiana’s offshore energy industry is thriving, with the wind power industry making inroads into the market in addition to oil and gas. In spite of legislation aimed at improving worker safety, offshore work is still a risky occupation with a high incidence of injury. If an offshore worker or seaman is injured on the job, understanding maritime law is an important component of making a successful personal injury claim.  

Understanding the Jones Act: Key Protections for Seamen

The Jones Act is a significant piece of legislation that offers safeguards to seamen. In essence, it permits workers injured at sea to seek compensation directly from their employers, rather than limiting them to workers’ compensation. It applies to seamen injured on vessels in navigation, including ships and offshore drilling platforms. Under this Act, employers bear a duty to provide a safe work environment. If they fail to do so, and an injury occurs as a result, they may be held liable. It’s worth noting that the term ‘seaman’ has specific legal interpretations, applying to workers who spend a significant part of their employment on a vessel or fleet that is in navigation.

Maritime Law 101: A Basic Overview for Offshore Workers

Maritime law, also known as admiralty law, is a specialized area of law that covers legal disputes and issues related to navigable waters. This can involve both domestic and international waters. For offshore workers, maritime law is particularly relevant. It protects their rights when they are working at sea or in harbors, on docks, or other places related to marine activity. Maritime law covers a wide range of topics such as injuries at sea, maritime contracts, marine salvage, and maritime liens. One of its key goals is to ensure the safety and rights of seamen and other offshore workers. Being aware of these laws helps workers understand their rights and what steps they might take if injured on the job.

Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA): How it Safeguards Dockworkers

The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) plays a vital role in protecting dockworkers. This federal law provides benefits for maritime employees who are injured or contract illnesses while on the job on navigable waters of the U.S. and adjacent used in loading/unloading, repairing/building vessels. Unlike the Jones Act, which covers seamen, the LHWCA applies to those maritime workers who are not considered “seamen” but still work in maritime occupations. The act provides compensation for medical care and a percentage of the worker’s wages lost due to injury or illness. The goal is to protect these workers and their families from hardship in the case of workplace accidents or illnesses.

Maintenance and Cure: The Fundamental Right of an Injured Seaman

Maintenance and Cure is an important right for injured seamen, and it’s a key part of maritime law. ‘Maintenance’ refers to the daily living expenses that a seaman is entitled to while recovering from an injury. These costs include things like food and housing. ‘Cure’, on the other hand, covers medical expenses related to the injury. This right applies regardless of whether the employer was at fault for the injury. It begins when the seaman is injured and continues until they have reached “maximum medical improvement,” meaning the condition can’t improve any further. Therefore, Maintenance and Cure can offer a significant financial safety net for seamen who are recovering from an injury.

The Role of Negligence in Maritime Personal Injury Claims

Negligence plays a central part in maritime personal injury claims. In essence, negligence is the failure to act with the level of care that a reasonable person would have shown in the same situation. In a maritime context, if an employer or co-worker’s negligence leads to a seaman’s injury, the injured party may have a right to compensation under the Jones Act. The Act holds employers accountable for providing a safe work environment. If they fall short, and a worker gets hurt, the employer may be held liable. This holds true even if the employer’s negligence is only a partial cause of the injury. 

Unseaworthiness: How it Affects Your Personal Injury Claim

Unseaworthiness is a term that plays a significant role in maritime personal injury claims. It refers to conditions that make a vessel unsafe for its intended purpose. For instance, this could mean a ship that isn’t adequately maintained, or essential safety equipment that’s missing or malfunctioning. If an offshore worker gets injured due to unseaworthiness, they might be eligible for compensation. Importantly, the vessel owner’s knowledge or ignorance of the condition doesn’t affect the claim. It’s the owner’s duty to ensure their vessel is seaworthy. Unseaworthiness can be a powerful lever in a personal injury claim, as it offers a potential path to compensation for injured seamen.

Steps to Take Immediately After an Offshore Injury

In the aftermath of an offshore injury, certain actions can greatly help the injured worker. First, it’s essential to report the injury immediately to a supervisor or the person in charge. A timely report ensures that the incident is officially recorded. Secondly, the injured worker should seek medical help. Regardless of how minor the injury might appear, it’s important to get a professional evaluation. Additionally, if possible, the worker should document the scene of the accident and the injury. Taking photos or making notes can be valuable. Lastly, the injured individual should maintain records of all related expenses and any correspondence about the incident. These steps can support the worker’s position in any subsequent personal injury claim.

The Claims Process: Navigating the Rough Seas of Maritime Litigation

Personal Injury Law

The process of making a maritime personal injury claim is a journey with several important steps. Initially, the injured seaman or offshore worker must report the injury to their employer. Subsequently, they need to file a claim with their employer’s insurer. Throughout this process, it’s important to keep detailed records of medical treatments, correspondence, and expenses related to the injury. If the claim is denied or the settlement offer seems inadequate, the worker can request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). During the hearing, the worker and the employer’s insurer will present their cases. After considering the evidence, the ALJ will make a decision about the case. This decision can then be appealed to the Benefits Review Board, and ultimately to a U.S. Court of Appeals.

If you are dealing with a personal injury claim, contact us or call (504) 500-5000 today for a free consultation.