We Help Injured Offshore Workers Just Like You
After being injured on the job you may think that you are legally entitled to workers' compensation benefits. However, if your job involves working on a vessel at sea, along the Gulf Coast, in a river system, or on an offshore oil rig, you are not entitled to workers' compensation. Instead, you are covered by federal admiralty law, also known as "maritime law" or the "Jones Act". Federal maritime law and the Jones Act are extremely complicated. Only a handful of law firms and lawyers across the country are considered experts in this area of the law. Brian Beckcom, one of our founding partners, is widely considered one the nation's leading lawyers for cases involving maritime accidents and injuries.
Find out how we helped Donnie make sure his employer followed the Jones Act and did right by Donnie after he got hurt working as an assistant driller on a jack-up rig.
Find out how we helped Marven get the justice he deserved after his company tried to blame him for the injuries he sustained saving his crew from disaster.
Learn Your Legal Rights Under Maritime Law or You May Lose Them
If you were injured on the job while working offshore, then you are not going to receive state workers' compensation benefits. Instead, your legal rights will be controlled by U.S. federal law. Under a U.S. federal law known as the "Jones Act," maritime workers who are hurt on the job are entitled to different legal benefits than land-based employees. Sometimes, these benefits can be much, much better than state workers' compensation benefits. However, you absolutely must hire the best lawyer for the case. Otherwise, you stand a very good chance of losing your legal rights entirely.
How Do You Know Which Laws Protect You?
The very first question you should ask is which law protects your legal rights? There are many different options. There are state laws and federal laws. And within the body of state and federal law, there are a number of specific laws like the Jones Act, the Longshore & Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, General Maritime Law, maintenance and cure, and much more.
Generally speaking, if your job requires you to work on a "vessel" that is "in navigation," then you are probably covered under the Jones Act. The definition of "vessel" is quite broad, and covers the following, and even more:
- Oceangoing ships like supply vessels, crew boats, cruise ships, cargo ships, and more
- Brown water vessels like tugboats, barges, inland workboats, and more
- Oil and gas vessels such as jack-up rigs, spars, semi-submersibles, offshore platforms, and drilling rigs.
Jobs Covered Under the Jones Act
In order for you to be covered under the Jones Act, you must be assigned to a "vessel" and your job must contribute to the mission of the vessel. Again, "contribute to the mission" is quite broad. Basically, any job on the vessel will fit the definition. The following is a list of the types of jobs that are often covered by the Jones Act:
- Captains and crew members
- Roughnecks, roustabouts, drillers, toolpushers, derrickmen, company men, OIMs (Offshore Installation Managers), mud engineers, deck engineers
- Ordinary seaman, able-bodied seaman, deckhands, engineers, mates
- Tankermen and Barge workers
- Cooks, galleyhands, and other supporting jobs
Differences Between State Workers' Compensation Laws and the Jones Act
Practically speaking, if you were hurt on the job while working offshore, you are going to be entitled to collect significantly more money in a settlement than if you were only protected by state workers' compensation laws. State workers' compensation laws are basically run by large insurance companies. The insurance companies have an incentive to provide the minimum amount of medical care. As a result, the insurance companies will hire doctors who often care little about the patients and more about making money from the insurance company. They will put you back to work well before you're ready, they will write reports saying your injuries were "pre-existing," and they will do all sorts of other underhanded things to prevent you from getting your full benefits.
Benefits of Being Covered Under Federal Maritime Law
It's different when you're covered by federal maritime law and the Jones Act. Under the Jones Act, for example, your employer is required by law to pay for all of your medical care until you reach maximum medical improvement. Unlike state workers' compensation laws, you get to go to your own doctors, not doctors hand-picked by your employer or some big insurance company. You are also entitled to something called "maintenance," which is a daily living stipend while you are off work recuperating from your injuries.
In addition to medical payments and maintenance payments, you are also allowed to bring a lawsuit for negligence damages, which you cannot do if you are getting state workers' compensation benefits. Under state law, you cannot sue your employer if they have workers' compensation insurance, regardless of the amount of negligence committed. Under the Jones Act, you can sue for negligence.
The difference between state workers' compensation laws and the Jones Act can be a difference in you receiving nothing and receiving hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in a settlement.
Find out how the Jones Act, maritime law, and the Death on the High Seas Act protect families of deceased mariners
Seafaring has always been a dangerous occupation. When the American colonies inherited their basic legal code from Britain, even before U.S. independence, we kept alive one important tradition: a separate law for people who work on or near the water.
Admiralty law, which includes the Jones Act, general maritime law, and the Death on the High Seas Act, also protects the family members of workers who are killed while working on a vessel or an offshore drilling rig. If your spouse is involved in a fatal accident on the water, you may have the right to pursue a wrongful death claim on your spouse’s behalf. However, the laws that cover workers who are killed on the water are completely different from the wrongful death laws on land. Because they are so different, many families who have lost loved ones don’t really understand their rights to compensation until they speak with an attorney who has a deep understanding of these laws.
The Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA)
Although grieving families are sometimes unsure if they want to take legal action, wrongful death lawsuits are important. They force employers to think hard about safety and avoid reckless actions that can endanger others. They provide relief for families who have unfairly suffered an unthinkable loss, and they sometimes help set a precedent for changes that protect other families from similar losses.
Until the early twentieth century, there was no wrongful death doctrine under maritime law. Congress created the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) in 1920 to provide a limited wrongful death benefit for fatal accidents on the water. DOHSA allows surviving family members to sue the ship owner or employer when a crewman dies because of negligent behavior or the ship’s unseaworthiness. While not every family is eligible for these benefits, investigating your family’s rights with an attorney can help you access the compensation you deserve and potentially hold the employer responsible for your loved one’s death.
Four Considerations That Affect Death on the High Seas Act Claims
DOHSA includes significant restrictions that limit when lawsuits can be filed. Some of these limits are expressly found in the original law, and other limits have been applied by years of federal court precedents. There are four major considerations that determine whether a wrongful death claim can proceed under DOHSA:
- Location of the fatal accident. The death must occur aboard a vessel on the open sea, at least three nautical miles from the shore of any state. It may be necessary to determine the location of the vessel from the ship’s log. If the vessel was within the three-mile zone of state control, the case cannot continue under the Death on the High Seas Act, but it is possible that state law may permit a wrongful death claim.
- Role of the decedent. The person who was killed must have been a seaman employed on the vessel. He or she need not have been on duty at the time of the fatal accident, but he or she must have had a regular and continuing job that furthered the mission of the ship.
- Limitation on who can file. The personal representative of the decedent must file the lawsuit. This role is usually limited to the executor or administrator of the deceased person’s estate. The only people who can benefit from a DOHSA claim are the deceased person’s spouse, parents, children, and other dependent relatives.
- The grounds claimed. The family of the seaman must be prepared to show that the seaman’s death was caused either by negligence or by the unseaworthiness of the vessel.
Note that the Death on the High Seas Act may take precedence over other laws that compensate families for a wrongful death at sea. If you have a close family member who has passed away due to an accident at sea, it’s important to contact an attorney who has experience handling maritime wrongful death cases so that your rights under various federal laws can be untangled.
Answers to Your Questions About the Death on the High Seas Act
Many families have questions about pursuing a legal claim for their loved one’s death. Some of the most common questions include:
- What kinds of damages are available under the Death on the High Seas Act? Damages in this type of action may include compensation for loss of financial support, loss of care, loss of nurturing and guidance, loss of household help, funeral costs, medical expenses incurred prior to death, and possibly more. Additional laws may also supplement this type of action and provide other types of damages.
- Is it right to profit from someone’s death? By acting negligently, the people responsible for your loved one’s death directly harmed you. You have been deprived of the income, companionship, and attention that your relative would have given you for years to come. Your lawsuit isn’t an attempt to profit from the death, but it is your chance to reclaim a small measure of the benefits the deceased person would have shared with you.
- What happens if DOHSA doesn’t apply to my case? If your loved one did not die on the high seas, or you otherwise do not qualify for relief pursuant to the Death on the High Seas Act, that is not the end of the story. You may still be able to recover damages pursuant other maritime laws. The attorneys with VB Attorneys have extensive experience pursuing wrongful death claims on behalf of families of deceased seamen. We know the law, and we can tell you if your case falls within the scope of the Death on the High Seas Act or another statute.
The death of a loved one leaves a lot of questions. Our attorneys focus on making sure that you understand your rights and can make informed decisions about your case.
Why You Need a Lawyer With Experience Handling Offshore Work Injury Cases
First of all, you can be absolutely guaranteed that your employer has lawyers and insurance adjusters on its side from day one. Most maritime employers have insurance adjusters prepared to come work for them at a moment's notice, and they have lawyers in house or law firms that are experienced in defending injury claims ready with a phone call. You may not even realize it, but from the moment you are hurt, you can be absolutely guaranteed that your employer has contacted its insurance adjusters and lawyers.
If you try to go it alone against your employer, its insurance adjusters, and its lawyers, you are going to lose every single time. You must have effective legal counsel on your side.
Second, you cannot hire just any lawyer for these types of cases. Simply put, 99% of lawyers are not qualified to work on cases involving federal maritime law. By hiring a lawyer with no experience in these types of lawsuits, you aren't helping protect your rights at all, and in fact, you may be damaging your legal rights more than protecting them. We have seen it time and time again. A hard-working employee gets hurt on the job. He or she thinks they are automatically covered under workers' compensation. They trust their employer to help them, only to find out weeks or months later that their employer had been spending the entire time protecting itself behind your back. Or, even worse, the injured employee hires the wrong lawyer and loses everything.
Why You Should Consider VB Attorneys for Your Jones Act Case
Who you hire as your lawyer may be the most important decision you make. It can be the difference between a small settlement and a large settlement, between a quick settlement or one that drags on for years and year, between collecting everything to which you are legally entitled or collecting nothing at all.
Common Questions about Jones Act Lawsuits
Our law firm is considered one of the best law firms in the country for injured maritime workers. Our lead lawyer in Jones Act cases, Brian Beckcom, studied Admiralty Law under the leading admiralty professor in the country, David Robertson, at the University of Texas School of Law, where he graduated with honors. Mr. Beckcom has been involved in admiralty law, maritime law, and the Jones Act his entire legal career. He has published hundreds of articles, books, news items, and other expert analysis on offshore injury claims. Mr. Beckcom has successfully represented hundreds of individuals in injury lawsuits.
Ready to Get Started? Contact Us to Discuss Your Injury Case For Free.
If you are ready to get started, you can call us toll free at 877.724.7800. You will speak to a lawyer immediately. The consultation is free, and we will walk you through the entire legal process, answer every single question, and give you an idea what to expect. You can also use the contact forms on our website to send us a confidential email, and we will schedule an immediate appointment for you to learn your rights and how to protect those rights.