Seamen fall under the Jones Act which allows them to sue their employers for negligence and seek damages for wage loss, medical bills, and pain and suffering. Workers’ compensation does not pay for pain and suffering. Harbor workers assigned to vessels owned by their employers such as tug boats, workboats, barges, and floating cranes, can claim seaman status and sue their employers directly. This right was affirmed in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case known as Southwest Marine, Inc. V. Gizoni, a San Diego case that was handled by Preston Easley. Gizoni was a shipyard rigging foreman who was injured when he fell through a hole in the deck of a work barge owned by his employer. You have three years from the date of injury to file a Jones Act lawsuit.
Unlike shore workers who receive workers’ compensation benefits regardless of fault, a seaman must sue his employer for damages. He has two ways to go—negligence and unseaworthiness. The Jones Act gives a seaman the right to sue his employer for negligence (failure to use ordinary care). To succeed in a negligence action a seaman must demonstrate some degree of fault on the part on his employer, no matter how small, that caused his injury.
This is a form of strict liability (liability without fault). Virtually any equipment failure, unsafe condition, or lack of manpower for a particular task will render the vessel unseaworthy—even if the vessel owner has done nothing wrong, or has exercised ordinary care. The unseaworthiness doctrine is a lethal weapon for an injured seaman.
While a seaman is out of work due to an injury, he is entitled to maintenance payments to cover the daily costs of his food and lodging until he reaches his point of maximum medical improvement. The employer must pay for all medical treatment, which is known as cure. Maintenance and cure is paid regardless of fault. For a free initial consultation, call or email our law firm today.