Seafaring has a rich heritage in our country and has been a crucial part of the economy of United States — and Florida in particular — for hundreds of years. Those who work in this industry, whether on ships or as longshore workers, provide an indispensable and frequently under-appreciated service, all at great peril to their own personal safety.
Because of this importance, the federal government has largely assumed jurisdiction over what happens when maritime workers are injured on the job through the passage of several statutes.
Among these, the Jones Act and the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act (LHWCA) ensure that injured sailors and dockworkers get the care and support they need when misfortune strikes. Our Orlando maritime lawyers are well versed in these laws and will help if you have been injured on the job.
Contact us for a free consultation today.
Origins of the Jones Act
The Jones Act – which is also called the Merchant Marine Act – was passed by Congress in 1920 to ensure uniformity throughout the nation’s coastlines in certain affairs involving merchant marine vessels.
While the Jones Act was a fairly broad law that covered numerous subjects relating to merchant mariners and vessels, it is most often referenced as, in effect, a workers compensation act for maritime sailors.
In broad strokes, this is accurate. The Jones Act provides that employers and/or ship owners are liable for providing medical care and maintenance to sailors injured aboard a ship.
However, the Jones Act differs from typical state workers’ compensation laws in a number of important ways. The most important of which is the requirement of negligence or “unseaworthiness.”
Unlike typical workers compensation laws, which protect workers injured on the job regardless of fault – often even if the worker’s own negligence caused the injury – the protections of the Jones Act do not apply unless a sailor’s injury was caused by the negligence of the employer or the “unseaworthiness” of the vessel upon which they served.
This is still not a high burden to meet. Any negligence on the part of a crew member or officer, any lapse in maintenance, or any defect in equipment can meet the standard (even if it is only a partial cause of the injury), is often enough to meet the burden.
Once that burden is met, the sailor’s employer or the owner of the ship must pay for the sailor’s medical care and must also support the sailor until medically fit to return to duty.
Workers Compensation for Dock Workers
The Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act (LHWCA) is more recent than the Jones Act and more closely resembles typical state workers compensation laws.
For instance, it provides no-fault compensation – including medical expenses, lost wages during recovery, and death benefits to family in the case of a fatal accident – to workers injured on the navigable waters of the United States, including adjoining piers and dock facilities but not including ships’ crews.
Like typical workers compensation, it excludes workers who are injured solely due to intoxication or who deliberately injure themselves. Also like typical workers compensation laws, the LHWCA is the sole remedy covered workers have against their employers and those employers cannot be sued for negligence.
The United States Department of Labor’s Office of Workers Compensation administers the compensation program, established by the LHWCA. This means that LHWCA claims follow a process and procedure that differ greatly from those used in workers compensation claims arising under state law.
An administrative law judge within the Office of Workers Compensation decides disputed cases. Appeals from that judge’s decision must go to the Benefits Review Board.
Further appeals are heard by the geographically appropriate United States Court of Appeals – this would be the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit for dockworkers injured in Florida – and potentially by the United States Supreme Court.
So, maritime attorneys representing injured Orlando dock workers in these types of claims must be well versed not only with the LHWCA itself but also with the operating procedures and standards of these forums.
Negligence at Sea
Claims for negligence can also arise at sea outside of the LHWCA and Jones Act. These include suits by non-employee passengers on pleasure or transport craft, like cruise ships. Ship operators owe a high duty of care to passengers and are frequently liable when injuries occur.
However, determining where to file a lawsuit, who has jurisdiction, and what law applies can be difficult, as it may not necessarily be the law of Florida. Maritime injury attorneys are well acquainted with these issues and know how to keep their clients on the right heading.
Lastly, dockworkers and sailors injured on the job may have legal claims against parties other than their employer or the owner of the ship upon which they were sailing.
Third parties, such as manufacturers of faulty equipment or negligent operators of other ships, may also be liable for their injuries.
While the LHWCA prevents injured workers from suing their employers, it does not prevent them from suing non-employer third parties whose negligence may have caused their injuries.
Maritime Law Help in Florida for People Injured on the Water
Maritime and admiralty law is a complicated and archaic area that few attorneys fully understand. Fortunately, the attorneys at Morgan & Morgan are well acquainted with the various, laws, regulations, and treaties that comprise the body of admiralty law in Florida.
If you have been injured on the job as a merchant marine, ship’s crew or dock worker, or if you have been injured as a passenger on a ship or boat, our lawyers want to help. Call us today at (407) 420-1414 or request a free case evaluation online to find out what rights you may have.