Remedies for Injured Seamen

Seamen are a special class of worker in the maritime industry. The term “seaman” refers to those maritime workers who perform at least 30% of their duties on a ship or an identifiable fleet of ships, as opposed to a longshoreman or other type of maritime worker. When a seaman is injured, they have certain rights and privileges that help them secure some potentially generous benefits and damages.

First, seamen are protected by a law called the Jones Act. The Jones Act basically allows seamen to recover damages from their employer when the employer fails to provide a reasonable safe work place, or fails to to maintain the seaman’s vessel in a reasonable safe condition. Under the Jones Act, a seaman may recover a number of damages, including medical expenses, lost wages, lost earning capacity (inability of the seaman to earn as much as he could before the accident), pain and suffering damages, and in cases of really egregious conduct, punitive damages, if his Jones Act employer failed to fulfill his obligations towards the seaman.

The injured seaman may also receive maintenance and cure. Maintenance is food and lodging expenses; cure refers to the seaman’s necessary medical expenses. Injured seamen are entitled to receive maintenance and cure from the time that they are injured through the point they reach maximum medical recovery, which is the point when the injury is not going to get any better and all a doctor can do is provide pain medication. Injured seamen are supposed to get maintenance and cure, whether or not the vessel crew did something wrong, and vessel owners run the risk of being held liable for punitive damages if they willfully and wrongfully fail to pay maintenance and cure damages.

Seamen also have the option of suing a vessel owner for maintaining a vessel that is unseaworthy. A ship-owner has a duty, an obligation, to maintain his vessel in a seaworthy condition. Under maritime law ,a vessel is seaworthy when the vessel, its crew, its equipment, its design, and its maintenance are fit to perform the intended operations set out for the ship. A vessel is unseaworthy when something is wrong with it or its equipment, or of its crew is unfit for duty. If the seaman is injured because of some type of defect in the ship, such as if an exposed wire electrocutes the seaman, the seaman can sue the vessel owner for medical expenses, lost wages, lost earning capacity, pain and suffering, and punitive damages. What is more, unseaworthiness involves strict liability, which means that all the seaman has to prove is that something was wrong with the vessel or the equipment, or that the crew was not fit for duty, to recover damages.

As one can see, seamen who are injured have several avenues for recovering at least some money in terms of damages. If you are a seaman who has been injured, you may wish to contact an experienced offshore injury lawyer. Such an attorney may be able to help you secure maintenance and cure, as well as review the facts of your case and determine if you have a viable court action for employer negligence or unseaworthiness.


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