Boating Accidents: Are You a Seaman and Can You Sue Your Employer?
You are injured on the job. Of course, you have no right to sue your employer because your accident is covered by workers compensation, right? Maybe not. If you are employed aboard a boat, you could be a seaman and not covered by workers compensation. This means that you can sue your employer for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
The Jones Act
Seamen are covered by the Jones Act (46 U.S.C 30104), which gives them the right to sue their employers for negligence. A seaman under the Jones Act must have duties that contribute substantially to the function of a vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission, and his or her employment-based connection with the ship must be substantial in duration and nature. This definition however includes more than the salty sailor plying the seven seas.
Oil rig workers aboard floating rigs are Jones Act seamen. Employees regularly employed aboard supply boats that ferry people and supplies to ships at anchor have been considered seamen. Crane operators assigned to derrick barges can be seamen. Employees working aboard restaurant boats, casino boats, fishing vessels, and barges can be Jones Act seamen, as well, depending on the facts of the case.
There are several benefits to being a Jones Act seaman rather than an employee covered by workers compensation laws. Workers compensation awards are usually much smaller in amount than awards under the Jones Act. The primary reason for this is that a Jones Act lawsuit allows the injured person to prove and recover damages for pain and suffering endured because of the injury.
There is also a huge difference in how a workers compensation case is decided compared to a Jones Act case. Workers compensation cases are decided by administrative law judges who, though competent, are more likely to approach your case in a detached and unemotional manner. Jones Act cases are decided by juries of people just like you, who are more likely to sympathize with your situation and reward higher monetary amounts for damages.
If you are injured aboard any type of boat or structure, which was floating on navigable waters, do not rely on your employer for a determination of whether you are a Jones Act seaman. Consult with an experienced maritime attorney who can advise you of your rights and protect them accordingly.