Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Finds Employer’s Counterclaim In Violation of the Jones Act

JANUARY 31, 2011 by Bill Abbott

In a recent case, Deering v. National Maintenance Repair, Inc., the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld a prior decision, argued by Jones Act attorneys in a federal district court in Illinois, to dismiss an employer’s counterclaim against a maritime employee who had filed a Jones Act complaint.

Vincent Deering was employed by the National Maintenance Repair Company as a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi River. Deering was attempting to move a barge along the river when the steering mechanism on the riverboat malfunctioned. He was instructed to continue operating the watercraft despite the malfunction. Deering later lost control of the vessel and it sank below an adjoining barge. Deering suffered severe injuries that prevented him from returning to work.

Deering contacted Jones Act attorneys who filed a claim against his employer alleging that his injury was caused by the employer’s negligence. His employer filed a counterclaim alleging the Deering caused the vessel to sink and requested that he pay the company $30,000 which was the salvage value of the vessel. Since Deering was not a particularly wealthy man and did not have the personal means to cover the cost of the vessel, the company requested to have the $30,000 deducted from any financial award that Deering received from the company for his Jones Act claim.

The Jones Act attorneys who filed a claim on Deering’s behalf argued that Section 5 of the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, which is incorporated into the Jones Act, did not allow the use of these types of set-offs by employers. The court agreed with the Jones Act attorneys. Section 5 of the Federal Employers’ Liability Act forbids common carriers, such as ships and vessels, from limiting their liability to an employee. This basically means that an employer cannot make you sign a waiver or a contract that would prevent them from compensating you for an injury that you received while working for them.

If the court had allowed Deering’s employer to offset his injury claim by $30,000, Deering would not have been compensated for the injuries that he received. In fact, he would have owed money to his employer. Deering’s Jones Act attorneys were able to convince the court that the employer’s counterclaim violated the law. The Jones Act attorneys also argued that failing to compensate Deering, who would not be able to return to work because of his injury, would be unjust.

If you have been involved in a maritime accident, you should contact the Jones Act attorneys in your area immediately to ensure that your right to compensation is protected. If your employer attempts to limit your right to recovery, experienced Jones Act attorneys may alert the court to this new development in the law to restrict the ability of your employer to offset the compensation that you are entitled to under the Jones Act.

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