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How Does the Law Protect Victims of Marine Accidents?

Victims of marine accidents may have a couple of ways of getting compensated for their injuries, including legislation known as the Jones Act and general maritime law. Whether you were injured in a recreational boating accident or while working in a seaman capacity, you will have some method of seeking damages for the injuries you have sustained.

Statistics on Marine Accidents

The U.S. Coast Guard maintains annual statistics on recreational boating accidents.

According to the statistics, there were 4,789 boating accidents in 2008. Of these accidents, 709 were fatal while 3,331 resulted in injuries. In total, these accidents caused $54 million worth of property damage.

The main cause for these accidents was negligence. Specifically, the report cites five top contributing factors:

  • Careless or reckless operation of a boat
  • The boat operator not paying attention
  • No proper lookout
  • Inexperience of the boat operator
  • Passenger behavior

Litigating Marine Accidents

Based on the U.S. Coast Guard statistics, negligence is common in marine accidents. For those injured in boating accidents, this negligence may help make it more likely for you to win your case against the negligent party.

When you file a lawsuit against a negligent party to recover money for injuries you have sustained, this is called a personal injury lawsuit. Personal injury cases fall under the area of law known as civil law.

Boating accidents, however, are usually not governed by civil law. Rather, because of their off-land jurisdictions, they are governed by maritime law. Under maritime law, depending on the circumstances of the accident, you might have a much more difficult time seeking recourse through the courts. In addition, you will likely have a drastically reduced time period to bring your case to court than if you were suing under civil law.

Maritime law is very complex. You should consult a maritime lawyer if you are considering filing a lawsuit.

The Jones Act

If your marine accident was not recreational, then you may have other methods of recourse. Specifically, if you are employed on a marine vessel and are injured, you may be eligible for compensation under the Jones Act.

State workers' compensation laws do not cover marine accidents. However, the Jones Act will compensate for on-the-job injuries for those who work predominantly on a vessel at sea or in interstate or international waters. This can apply to a wide range of workers including:

  • Fishermen
  • Tugboat operators
  • Marine transportation workers
  • Cruise ship workers
  • Oil platform employees
  • Barge workers

To have a cause of action under the Jones Act, you must prove one of two things: either that your employer was negligent or that the vessel, crew, or a vessel appliance was considered unseaworthy.

Examples of negligence on your employer's part include ignoring safety guidelines, not requiring the use of safety equipment, or failing to correct an unsafe working condition.

An unseaworthy condition, on the other hand, simply means something that is not reasonably fit for its intended purpose. This could be a poorly trained crew, a damaged ship, or a broken piece of ship equipment.

Under the Jones Act, you are entitled to several types of compensation. This includes pay for room and board costs incurred due to your injury, medical expenses, and payback for wages lost due to your injury. You can also seek general damages, including compensation for pain and suffering.