Workers’ compensation is a type of insurance most employers must buy to protect their employees when a job-related injury occurs. Maritime workers’ compensation provides compensation for maritime workers. Many of these workers are in high-risk environments. The working conditions, dangerous equipment, and long distances from emergency care make them more prone to serious injuries. When someone working at sea is injured, the rules of maritime workers’ compensation differ from those the rest of us must follow.
What Is Maritime Workers’ Compensation?
People who work in offices, on construction sites, or on the road all have the same rights to workers’ compensation. Maritime workers’ comp has some differences in who gets it and the type of compensation they receive. One way that workers’ comp differs for maritime workers is that all workers don’t have the same rights. There are two basic types of maritime workers. The first group includes seamen. The second one includes everyone else who works on or near the water and doesn’t meet the definition of a seaman. The type of worker they are determines the type of compensation they’re entitled to.
Maritime Workers’ Compensation for a Seaman
The average landlubber tends to think of a seaman as someone who serves in the Navy. In reality, it doesn’t matter what type of vessel they work on. They might work on a cruise ship carrying thousands of passengers. They could also work on a fishing boat that carries only the working crew. A seaman might work on almost any type of ship or boat that is “in navigation.” The definition extends to crew members and captains alike.
When a seaman is injured, they aren’t entitled to the same workers’ compensation benefits other workers have under state or federal law. Instead, federal law provides three separate types of compensation and damages.
- Suing their employer under the Jones Act
- Suing the owner of the vessel on which they were injured under the Federal Maritime Doctrine of Unseaworthiness
- Receiving “Maintenance and Cure” from their employer regardless of the at-fault party
The Jones Act
The Jones Act is a federal law that regulates maritime commerce in the United States. The law was passed in the 1920s to help injured seaman recover damages. As listed above, the Act gives seamen the right to sue their employer for damages when their negligence caused the seaman’s injury. A seaman has three basic rights when they get injured, including…
- The right to receive Maintenance and Cure
- The right to sue their employer for negligence
- The right to sue the shipowner for unseaworthiness
To claim compensation under the Jones Act, the person must qualify as a Jones Act seaman. Specifically, the vessel must be “in navigation.” Specifically, this means the vessel must be afloat, in operation, capable of moving, and on navigable waters. It does not have to be moving or at sea, only capable of moving under its own power. It might be tied up, but not in drydock or out of the water.
Navigable waters is another legal term related to the definition. It doesn’t apply only to oceans, but also rivers or lakes used for interstate or foreign commerce. Even landlocked lakes can qualify if they extend into another state or connect to a river which flows into another state.
What the term doesn’t apply to are oil rig workers on platforms that are permanently attached to the ocean’s floor. It also doesn’t apply to workers on docks. These workers aren’t on navigable waters, and they don’t qualify as Jones Act seamen. Fortunately, other maritime laws protect them when they get injured.
The Jones Act seaman must contribute to the work of the vessel. In almost every case, maritime employees who are on-board fill this requirement. The requirement for seamen to spend a significant amount of their time on the vessel is a little more difficult. To qualify as a Jones Act seaman, they must spend a minimum of 30% of their time working as an employee on the vessel or on a fleet of vessels.
Negligence Under the Jones Act
If an individual qualifies as a seaman, they have the right to sue their employer for negligence due to their action or inaction. The Jones Act specifies that maritime employers must provide seamen with a reasonably safe place to work. They must also use ordinary care to maintain and keep the vessel in a reasonably safe condition.
The seaman doesn’t have the burden of proof that the employer knew about the unsafe condition that caused their injury. They only have to prove that it contributed to their injury. The employer is guilty of negligence if they had notice of an unsafe condition and failed to correct it. Some examples of acts that might constitute negligence include:
– Not enforcing or following safety rules
– Sailing in dangerous weather conditions
– Not providing adequate medical care
– Hiring unqualified crew members
– Not providing adequate crew supervision
– Inadequate safety training
– Supplying faulty or improper equipment for the job
Too often, maritime employers cut corners to save money. Their actions cause a greater risk of injury to their crew members. Proving negligence under the Jones Act is often less challenging than with other types of personal injury cases. The maritime personal injury lawyer is only required to prove the employer’s negligence contributed even slightly to the seaman’s injury.
One way that maritime employers cause their employees’ injuries through negligence is by providing an unseaworthy vessel. Maritime law defines a seaworthy vessel as a ship with a hull, equipment, and crew that are adequate in design, maintenance, and character to perform their intended functions in operating the ship. Unseaworthiness might apply to a vessel even though it is still navigable or sailable. The employer must provide workers with a safe working environment and safe equipment. Even if the owner wasn’t negligent, they are liable for damages resulting from the unseaworthiness of the vessel.
Maintenance & Cure
The concept of maintenance & cure is that the employer must provide care for an injured seaman even if they weren’t at fault for their injuries. The maintenance component includes providing room and board during the seaman’s recovery. It extends to the seaman’s expenses including rent or mortgage payments, food, property taxes, and insurance.
The cure component refers to the seaman’s medical expenses. The maritime employer must pay maintenance & cure until the time the seaman reaches maximum medical improvement. This is the point in recovery where additional treatment will no longer cause any improvement. It doesn’t mean that the person is fully healed; only that they have reached a plateau in their treatment.
The Importance of Workers’ Comp for Seamen
Seamen work in an environment that most of us will never understand. They work with heavy, dangerous equipment, sometimes at extreme heights. Their injuries are often severe, and they happen hours, or even days, away from medical care. Seamen put their lives at risk every day that they go to work.
Maritime Workers’ Compensation for “Other” Maritime Workers
Maritime workers who don’t qualify as seaman are covered by the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. It is a type of federal workers’ compensation at that governs compensation for maritime employees and other types of employees. The Longshore Act covers most employees who aren’t seaman but who work on or near the water. This includes longshoremen, dock workers, and harbor workers. It also covers civilians who work on military bases throughout the world. Their workers’ comp benefits come through a separate federal law, the Defense Base Act.
The Longshore Act has more in common with the federal workers’ comp program than the Jones Act does. One significant difference is that it usually provides more compensations to injured workers who qualify. If you get injured on the job that doesn’t involve the water, you’ll usually receive 60% of your average working wage for temporary total disability. With the Longshore Act, injured workers receive 2/3 of their average wage, or about 66%. Another difference is that the Longshore Act provides coverage for permanent partial disability while most state programs do not.
A good maritime lawyer will help their client get LHWCA benefits if they qualify. To do so, they must pass the “status” and “situs” tests.
The Status Test
This test determines whether the employer performs maritime work. The Act requires employees to perform maritime duties during some portion of their work for the employer. These tasks must relate directly to the water or marine transport.
Longshoremen and other employees who load and unload vessels, build ships, or make repairs almost always qualify for workers’ compensation benefits under the Act. So do the mechanics who repair trucks that carry shipping containers to and from the ship. The only requirement is that their work contributes to the maritime nature of the business.
Employees who do not meet the status test cannot receive benefits. For example, those who perform only clerical work do not qualify. Neither do those employees who build small recreational vessels, fish farm workers, or those who qualify for benefits under The Jones Act.
The Situs Test
The second test deals with the location where the employee worked. The Act provides benefits to those working on, near, or adjacent to navigable water. This includes employees who load and unload ships, build or dismantle shipping vessels, or who make repairs. Due to the large size of many shipyards and shipping terminals, most employees at shipyards where the border is up to a mile or so away from the water qualify as “adjacent.”
Benefits Under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA)
The LHWCA provides injured employees with all of the medical treatment deemed necessary and reasonable. Injured workers might also receive compensation for mileage and transportation to medical treatment. It also pays vocational rehabilitation for those workers unable to return to their previous line of work.
Types of monetary benefits paid to injured workers include:
- Temporary Total Disability
- Temporary Partial Disability
- Permanent Total Disability
- Permanent Partial Disability
Proceeding with Your Maritime Workers’ Compensation Claim
If you qualify for benefits under the LHWCA, you can probably get more benefits than with regular workers’ comp. In some states, you can file under the LHWCA and the state’s workers’ comp program for the same injury. However, even if your state allows you to file under both systems, you can’t receive benefits from both. Contact a maritime workers’ comp attorney to learn more about your rights and how to proceed with your claim.
The LHWCA requires businesses that employ workers who qualify as maritime workers to obtain workers’ compensation insurance. The injured worker receives benefits from the LHWCA and their employer. However, the Department of Labor (DOL) makes decisions about eligibility and the amount of benefits paid. It also pays survivors benefits to families of workers who die on the job.
Once the injured employee reports the injury, the claims process begins. If neither the employer or their insurance company denies the claim, the DOL arranges for payment of the claim. If the employer or their insurance company denies the claim, the DOL sets up a conference, either in person or by phone. If the conference fails to resolve the dispute, the next step is a hearing before a DOL judge.
Why It’s So Important to Know Your Rights
The injuries that occur to seaman and other maritime workers are often severe. They require extensive medical treatment. Often, the injured worker is no longer capable of working in the same type of job.
When their injuries result in death, their families lose their means of support. An experienced maritime personal injury attorney can help you understand your rights. They know the types of damages you have incurred, and the benefits you deserve.
Let Us Help You with Your Maritime Workers’ Compensation Claim
Dealing with your injuries is already stressful enough. If your employer has refuted your claim for benefits, we can help. Take the first step and contact the Law Offices of Charles D. Naylor for a free case evaluation today!