We often see situations where employees working on offshore rigs or boats are injured and, after interacting with the company they work for, decide to wait before hiring an attorney for their Jones Act claims. The employees often "feel" like the company is taking care of them and watching out for their best interests. At least, this is what their company is telling them.
Then, after most of the deadlines on a Jones Act claim expire, the company seems to suddenly turn its back on the worker. The company stops benefits, stops helping with medical care and wages, and may even fire the employee. Since the company strung the situation out for so long, the injured employees have no recourse because all the important deadlines have passed.
Common "tricks" your employer may use to defeat your Jones Act injury claim
Employers and vessel owners work hard to minimize their liability for accidents and injuries—and they don’t always play fair. Injured Jones Act workers should watch out for company attempts to:
- Get you to see a company doctor. The good news is that, as a Jones Act mariner, you have the right to see your own doctor after you've been injured at work. And your company, under maintenance and cure, will cover your medical bills.
- Offer a low settlement. Your lost wages, medical bills, and living expenses add up quickly. If you accept a settlement offer before you've fully recovered from your injuries, and the money runs out, you're stuck. If you accept a settlement offer before you find out that your injuries are career-ending, you're really stuck. The true cost of your injury could be tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars more than the company is offering.
- Have you sign away your rights. If you sign forms you don’t understand or accept the company's initial settlement offer, you might be signing away your Jones Act rights. These are valuable rights that allow you to recover your lost wages, medical bills, expenses, future medical bills, and future lost wages. If you aren't 100 percent sure what you’re signing, review it with an attorney.
- Prepare an inaccurate report about your injury. Typically, the company will downplay their own fault for causing your injury. They may blame you for your accident and claim you were not seriously injured. For these reasons, usually the company won't give you a copy of your own accident report.
- Take recorded statements. The company will try to take recorded statements from you and your co-workers, and those statements could hurt your claim. The company tricks you and your fellow employees into giving statements that are bad for your claim. Your co-workers feel obligated to go along with what the company says about your accident because they don't want to jeopardize their jobs.
- Hire a private investigator. The company may hire a private investigator to follow you around and secretly videotape you. Then, when you assert a Jones Act claim, they will pull up these videos and claim they show you were not injured as seriously as you claim.
- Get copies of your private medical records. The company probably didn't tell you that you are not required to sign forms for release of personal records. They will try to get you to give up your full medical record, then send the records to a company doctor, who will write a report that downplays your injuries and returns you to work prematurely.
These are just some of the things your employer is doing behind your back while you are trying to recover from your injuries. While they are doing these things, they are telling you that they are looking out for you, and looking out for your best interest. They are also probably telling you not to talk to any attorneys about a Jones Act claim. The truth of the matter is this: your company is only looking out for itself and trying to find ways it can pay you as little as possible for your injury. The company tells you one thing, and does the opposite behind your back.
Don’t wait any longer to talk to an attorney if you've been injured working offshore
If one of the above scenarios sounds familiar, get legal advice immediately. Injured seamen should get legal advice immediately because there is no doubt the company has attorneys on their side working to protect the company. The legal team at VB Attorneys has often given "behind the scenes" legal advice free of charge to injured workers to make sure they don't start off way behind the company if legal action becomes necessary.
VB Attorneys has represented hundreds of people injured while working on the water, and you can call the firm today to start getting answers. At VB Attorneys your case is reviewed for free, and with no obligation, so that you can make informed decisions about your Jones Act claim and protect your rights.