The Jones Act is a federal law that provides compensation to injured seaman, offshore workers, and inshore workers injured on the job while assigned to a vessel in navigation. As an injured seamen, you probably want to know the “formula” for calculating your settlement amount. In fact, during a maritime case the formula for a Jones Act lawsuit is one of the most common questions.
There are many different answers to this question. Some lawyers will tell you to add up your medical bills and lost wages, then multiply by 2 or 3. Some believe the resulting number is a good range for a settlement. Other lawyers may tell you to “discount” the settlement amount by some percentage of estimated chances of success at trial. Other lawyers may tell you to research what other clients have received in similar cases and use this as guidepost.
VB Attorneys has a different opinion, and a different way of helping clients determine a fair settlement for their case. Let’s look further.
Juries or judges decide Jones Act cases that go to trial, not lawyers, clients, or insurance companies. They receive special instructions that tell them exactly what evidence they should and can consider. Prior to reaching a verdict, these instructions guide them in the decision making process, telling them what questions to answer.
Judges and juries often have different opinions on personal injury and negligence cases, and the appropriate compensation for them. Their answers to the proposed questions may vary widely. This is why you must be careful when comparing a prior verdict to your case, even if it is similar.
Another issue to consider is the fact that some lawyers have more experience handling and settling Jones Act cases. We have personally witnessed cases where a lawyer settled a Jones Act case for significantly less than we would have recommended. This is yet another reason why it’s dangerous to look at other settlements and compare your case to them. The amount of your settlement may have more to do with who you hire as your lawyer than you may believe.
Finally, you also have to be careful about calculating your case based on someone else’s because every case is different. Even if the maritime case is against the company that employed you and you have similar injuries and lost wages, your case is different. Witnesses may say and do different things or the negligence evidence could be different. The lawyers defending the company may be different, and the insurance company deciding how much to pay in settlement may differ.
So, although other cases can be somewhat helpful, it is our opinion, you should avoid using similar comparisons or “formulas” in an individual Jones Act case to determine your case value.
We believe the best way to determine an appropriate and fair settlement amount is to ask this overarching question: “If my case goes to trial, what would a jury likely do with my case?” That, to us, is the number one consideration to determining a fair and reasonable settlement. Nothing else matters as much as the answer to this question.
In fact, insurance companies have huge databases of verdicts and settlements at their disposal to keep track of thousands of cases. A good lawyer will have access to publications that contain Jones Act lawsuit settlements in all sorts of cases.
So, obviously, the next question is: “How can you determine what a jury is likely to do with your case?”
It is our opinion that unless you have a qualified lawyer with experience investigating, preparing, and settling cases, it will be extremely difficult to know with any level of comfort what a jury is likely to decide.
Once you’ve selected the right lawyer for your maritime case, they should carefully, thoroughly, and painstakingly investigate. The particulars of the investigation will vary greatly from case to case, but in general, a competent and thorough investigation will include interviewing witnesses and examining accident reports and witness statements. It will also include studying your medical, employment, and financial records, looking at industry safety standards, and, if necessary, taking formal legal steps like depositions and document requests.
You will almost certainly need help from expert consultants like economists (for lost wages), medical doctors (to explain your diagnosis and prognosis), specialists for job training, and maybe a specialist for future medical cost analysis.
Once your case is investigated then your lawyer should meet with you and explain what the investigation has revealed and answer any questions you have.
In a Jones Act case, you are entitled to what is known as maintenance and cure, unless you didn’t reveal a pre-existing medical condition. Your settlement should include all past due and future maintenance and cure.
You are also entitled to lost wages, both past and future, pain and suffering, mental anguish, impairment, loss of enjoyment of life, and other elements of financial compensation, if you prove negligence or unseaworthiness. A good lawyer will walk you through your chances of success and help you calculate all these figures.
Finally, your case will also be effected by the Judge assigned to your case and the geographical location of the Court. Simply put, some Judges are friendlier to injured workers and some are less friendly, and some geographic locations have a history of being more or less friendly to the claims of injured people. That’s why you have to factor in your judge and jury into the settlement calculation.
The wrong way is to base your decision on someone else’s case, or on some “stock formula” of medical bills plus lost wages plus some factor of 2, 3 or 4. This is the lazy way to determine settlements and approaches like this may or may not be appropriate for your case.
The right way to obtain a fair and reasonable settlement is to carefully and thoroughly review the facts of your case and to carefully and thoroughly investigate your case. After which, analyze the facts of your case through the lawyer’s experience and professional judgment. Then, and only then, will a competent lawyer talk with you about the results of his or her investigation, walk you through all the pros and cons, answer any questions you have, and then give you their professional opinion of what your settlement should be based on.
You should never be forced into accepting any Jones Act lawsuit settlements you don’t approve. It is your case and your decision. But if you trust your lawyer, you should obviously give great weight to their professional recommendations.
To learn more about what your Jones Act lawsuit settlement should look like, contact our Board Certified maritime attorneys today by filling out a confidential contact form or giving us a call at (877) 724-7800.