Maritime – Jones Act
Maritime – Jones Act
We represent maritime workers who are hurt on the job working in the Gulf of Mexico and inland rivers and lakes, such as the Mississippi River. Passengers can sometimes recover as well. You may be able to recover from your employer, from a third party, or from a vessel itself.
Maritime personal injury claims are complicated. I have yet to come across an easy one. Who is entitled to recover is dictated in large part by what type of marine work they do and where the events causing the injury take place. Maritime personal injury claims are not restricted to marine workers alone. Claim are frequently made by vessel passengers and pleasure boaters.
The question of who has been injured is one of the first questions that needs to be answered. Is the injured party a traditional marine worker engaged in the transportation of goods and people like a deckhand, engineer, or captain? Is the injured party a marine worker engaged in harvesting food or minerals from the sea like a fisherman or someone in the offshore oil business? Is the injured person a passenger on a vessel? Is the injured person a maritime worker that ordinarily doesn’t go to sea like a longshoreman?
In addition to who was injured, where did the accident happen is also determinative of the applicable law. Ordinarily a maritime personal injury claim results from an accident or poor planning that unfolds in a “wet environment.” This wet environment is almost always found when an accident occurs in a navigable river, like the Mississippi River, or the Gulf of Mexico. It can be found in other places as well. (In some instances, seamen have been injured in auto accidents or helicopters that have been decided under the Jones Act.)
Beyond who was injured and the actual location, the question of whether the accident occurred aboard a “vessel” is ordinarily a key question too. Most people can agree on what is and isn’t a vessel, but the legal definition of what is a vessel leads ordinary folks to some surprises. In some instances, divers have been found to be vessels and various drill constructs (jackup rigs for instance) have been found to be vessels depending on what they were doing at the time.
As more cruise ships ply the Louisiana waters, more claims have cropped up in Louisiana courts. However, passengers are frequently surprised that via their contract of carriage they agreed to bring their claims in Florida or some other place.
While the actual mechanics of a maritime personal injury matter may be relative straight forward, the potential claim and where it can be brought and under what area of the law will it be decided is a very complicated matter.
Once the questions of who was injured, where did the injury occur and aboard what have been answered, then it can be determined which area of the law will dictate the outcome. These areas of the law can be the general maritime law, state law, the Jones Act, the Longshore and Harbor Workers law, Death on the High Seas Act or some other area of the law.
Each area of the law has benefits and disadvantages for reasons that may not make us much sense these days, when compared to the time the law became effective. A good example of this is the idea of “maintenance and cure.” When injured, in ancient times, it was possible for the captain to leave a sailor behind in a port posting money for his housing and medical bills in an amount that would have been commensurate with what his lodging and care would cost aboard ship. With modern health insurance, this idea may need some updating, though it often allows for claims when the company manipulates the injured sailor’s care in a hurtful manner.
Once a lawyer has figured out the substantive law that applies, where to bring the claim, assuming it can’t be worked out with the responsible parties, is a procedural question that must be answered. Can you and does it make sense to bring the claim in a Louisiana state court or is federal court preferable for the claim? I have brought claims in both venues and have found, in most instances, federal court is better equipped to handle most claims. Of course, there are exceptions to everything.
In my years of practice, among others, I have represented vessel passengers, divers, deckhands, boat captains, and roughnecks. If you or a loved one have been injured in a maritime environment and you would like to visit with me about the accident and what law applies, let’s sit down and talk it over.
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