Maritime lawyer

Maritime employers owe several duties to the seamen who work aboard their ships.  For example, employers must provide a safe working and living environment for their crew in an effort to avoid maritime injuries. If they fail to do so, they may be found negligent under the Jones Act or liable under the warranty of seaworthiness for any maritime injuries that occur as a result of breaching their duty.

Under the maritime rescue doctrine, shipowners and maritime employers also have a duty to rescue seamen who fall overboard into the water. The purpose of this doctrine is to prevent maritime injuries and deaths. In the case of Keyes v. Vantage SS Co., Inc., 609 F.2d 140 (5th Cir. 1980) a crewmember jumped off the side of a vessel and into the water after imbibing a large quantity of alcohol. Even though is was apparent that the seaman was in danger, no effort was made by either the crewmembers or the officers on the ship to rescue him. After struggling against the current for several minutes, the seaman drowned. His family brought an action in court against the deceased seaman’s employer.

The court held that the deceased seaman’s employer was liable for failing to follow the maritime rescue doctrine. The doctrine requires the ship’s officers to rescue seamen who fall overboard from a ship and to effect a search of the area traversed by the ship if the location of the seaman is unknown so long as it is reasonably possible that the seaman remains alive in the water. Employers who fail to make an attempt to rescue a distressed seaman may be held liable for any resulting maritime injuries or deaths.

 

Under the Jones Act, shipowners and maritime employers have a duty to provide a safe environment for seamen to live and work. Part of that duty requires the shipowner or the employer to provide adequate medical treatment to a maritime employee who sustains a Jones Act injury in the course of performing his or her job duties.

There are generally two distinct ways that a shipowner can violate his duty to provide prompt and adequate medical care for a seaman with a Jones Act injury. The first occurs when a shipowner fails to get an injured seaman to a doctor when it is reasonably necessary to do so. The second type of violation may occur is the shipowner selects a doctor or physician who negligently treats the employee. Olsen v. American SS Co., 176 F.3d 891 (6th Cir. 1999).

In the case of De Centeno v. Gulf Fleet Crews, 798 F.2d 138 (1986), a seaman fell ill while working an a vessel. The shipowner arranged to have the seaman visit a local physician who treated the seaman for influenza. The seaman returned to work on his ship immediately following the doctor’s treatment. Over the course of the next few days, the seaman’s health deteriorated rapidly. The seaman subsequently sought medical treatment from a different physician who diagnosed him with diabetes.

Due to his weakened condition, the seaman developed an acute case of diarrhea with strong stomach cramps and vomiting after ingesting bacteria from the local water supply. The seaman then developed an infection, which led to the seaman’s death. The seaman’s surviving widow and three minor children sought damages for the deceased seaman’s Jones Act injury and death.  The court found the seaman’s employer liable for failing to provide adequate medical care and treatment for the seaman’s Jones Act injury.

 

Many maritime claims and offshore settlements are the direct result of an employer’s breach of the warranty of seaworthiness. The courts have held that maritime employers have an absolute duty to provide a seaworthy vessel. A vessel is considered seaworthy if it is sufficiently safe for seamen to live and work upon.

When a maritime employer fails to provide a safe ship for his employees to live and work upon, the employer may be required to pay damages to an employee if he is injured as a result of the unseaworthy condition. Damages and compensation are often acquired through either court proceedings or through offshore settlements.

The main difference between taking a maritime case to court and accepting offshore settlements is the person or persons who decide the amount of compensation that will be paid out to the injured seaman. Maritime cases that proceed to court will be decided by either a judge or a jury. If you have a very strong case, going to court could result in a very positive outcome. In contract, offshore settlements are decided and negotiated by the employer and the employee, and often, each of the party’s respective legal representatives.

Seamen who are entertaining the idea of accepting a settlement should consult with an experienced maritime attorney before agreeing to an offer to ensure that it is fair in light of the circumstances surrounding the injury.  There are numerous factors that should be seriously considered when placing a monetary value on a maritime case. A knowledgeable maritime lawyer can accurately assess your case and negotiate with your employer on your behalf.

 

As a general matter, when a seaman is injured while working on a ship or vessel, he has the right to bring a claim against his maritime employer for damages under the Jones Act as well as principles of general maritime law. After a claim is filed, many employers offer maritime settlements to employees in an effort to dispose of the case in an efficient and inexpensive manner. Depending upon the seaman’s claim, it may be in his best interests to forgo maritime settlements in favor of pursuing the case is court.

There are some cases where maritime settlements can be advantageous to an injured maritime worker. Often, those cases arise when the employee was engaged in an act of misconduct or extreme negligence at the time of his injury. The courts have long recognized the legal principle of comparative negligence in maritime injury cases. This principle allows the court or a jury to assign blame in terms of percentages to each party involved in the accident. Therefore, if the maritime worker was 50% at fault for causing his own injury, his damages may be reduced by 50% as well. In cases where employees opt to negotiate maritime settlements with their employers, they may end up negotiating an agreement that provides more compensation than they would have received had the case gone to court.

While the courts have held that a seaman’s negligence will not bar his recovery under the Jones Act, recovery may be barred completely in cases of employee misconduct under general principles of maritime law. In Exxon Co., USA v. Sofec, Inc., 517 US 830 (1996), the Supreme Court held that “an injured party who is the superseding or sole proximate cause of the damage complained of cannot recover from a party whose actions or omissions are deemed to be causes in fact, but not the legal cause of the damage.” This case essentially says that if one person’s misconduct is the sole cause of their injury, they may not recover from another party, even if that party was negligent at some point in time prior to the injury. For seaman who fit this scenario, negotiating maritime settlements might provide more compensation than the court would provide.

 

In the majority of maritime injury cases that are handled by Houston Jones Act lawyers, the employer has an obligation to provide maintenance and cure benefits to an employee who is injured while serving his or her ship. Employers who fail to provide maintenance and cure benefits when an obligation exists to do so may be liable for attorney’s fees, interest on amounts due and other penalties assessed by the court.

Houston Jones Act lawyers understand that the obligation for an employer to pay maintenance and cure payments to an injured seaman is very broad. In one famous case, Koistinen v. American Export Lines, Inc., 83 N.Y.S. 2.d 297 (1948), a seaman was awarded maintenance and cure even though his injury did not occur on his ship. Rather, the seaman was injured when he jumped from the window of a prostitute’s room to escape a scuffle with another one of her male associates. In this case, the seaman still had a duty to report to his ship, even though he was pursuing recreational activities at the time of his injury.

Houston Jones Act lawyers are aware that the courts have generally held that seamen who are under the supervision of their maritime employer or have a duty to report to their ship are eligible to receive maintenance and cure payments from their employer regardless of whether the injury took place on their vessel or on land. However, Houston Jones Act lawyers also understand that there are a few scenarios that may preclude a seaman from obtaining maintenance and cure benefits from their employers.

Seamen who willfully conceal a prior medical condition from their employer may not be eligible for maintenance and cure benefits if the prior injury was the root cause of their present injury. Additionally, a seaman is generally not entitled to maintenance and cure if their injury or illness is caused by their own “willful misconduct” such as severe intoxication. If you have been involved in a maritime injury or accident you should contact the Houston Jones Act lawyers in your area to discover whether you are entitled to maintenance and cure payments under the law.

 

Offshore claims for maintenance and cure benefits are typically granted to seamen who become injured while performing their job duties upon a ship or vessel. As a general rule, a maritime employer has a duty to compensate seamen who make offshore claims for maintenance and cure regardless of whether the employer was negligent or not. Basic maintenance and cure benefits provide injured seamen with food, shelter, unpaid wages and compensation for medical costs associated with their injury.

An employer is only required to pay maintenance and cure benefits to a seaman while he is recovering from his injury. There are two scenarios under which a maritime employer is entitled to stop maintenance and cure payments. The first scenario occurs when a seaman has reached his or her “maximum medical cure” and the second scenario occurs when the maritime employee is considered permanently disabled.

Maximum medical cure is achieved when it appears probable or likely to the court that further treatment will result in an improvement of the seaman’s condition. Terrebonne v. B & J Martin, Inc., 906 So.2d 431 (1st Cir. 2005) In a typical case, both the employer and the employee will provide a statement from one or more doctors, surgeons or medical professionals indicating whether or not the seaman has achieved maximum medical cure. After hearing the testimony from each party’s doctors, the court will usually make a credibility determination based on the evidence presented.

Similarly, if maritime employees bring offshore claims for maintenance and cure and are later found to be permanently disabled by the court, the maritime employer will no longer have an obligation to provide maintenance and cure payments. In such cases, additional offshore claims may be pursued against the employer for a final determination of damages and compensation that can be recovered by the seaman.

 

Maintenance and cure are remedies to maritime claims that are provided for pursuant to principles of general maritime law. Maritime claims for maintenance and cure are considered to be separate and independent from alternative claims for negligence under the Jones Act or unseaworthiness under general maritime law. However, maritime claims for maintenance and cure can be brought at the same time as Jones Act and unseaworthiness claims.

There are three fundamental elements to maintenance and cure remedies: subsistence, medical care and unearned wages. The subsistence element entitles injured seamen to receive money to cover food and lodging expenses. The medical care element requires a maritime employer to pay for all hospitalization costs including doctor and nursing fees, rehabilitation expenses, medications and other miscellaneous medical costs that are associated with the seaman’s injury. The unearned wages element of maintenance and cure requires the maritime employer to pay an ill or injured seaman’s wages until the end of a particular voyage or until the seaman’s articles of employment are terminated.

Employers who fail to pay maintenance and cure to a seaman who was injured while performing his or her job duties may be required to pay punitive damages and attorney’s fees to the employee in addition to amounts that are owned for maintenance and cure. If you have been injured in a maritime work accident you should contact an attorney who is experienced in handling maritime claims to learn about your right to compensation under the law.

 

The Jones Act is a federal law that allows workers who are classified as “seaman” to recover damages if they are injured while working on a vessel. As a general rule, Jones Act claims can only be brought by a seaman against his or her maritime employer. However, the courts have ruled that an employer does not need to own or operate the vessel on which his or her employee serves in order to be held liable for a seaman’s injury. Guidry v. South Louisiana Contractors, 614 F.2d 447 (5th Cir. 1980).

Seamen who are injured as a result of the negligent acts of a co-worker are not entitled to bring a Jones Act claim against the co-worker. Maritime workers and seaman are generally considered to be agents of their employer. Therefore, in cases were one seaman injures another, the responsible party for Jones Act claims is still the maritime employer, unless criminal acts are involved.

Seamen may be able to bring additional claims, aside from Jones Act claims, against parties who are not their employer. For example, if two vessels collide in navigable waters and the collision causes injuries to a seaman or maritime worker, the seaman may be able to bring a claim under principles of general maritime law against each of the vessels involved in the collision in addition to the claims that he may have against his employer.

 

BP has donated $100 million to assist deepwater rig workers who were affected by the 2010 federal moratorium in the Gulf. The Gulf Coast Restoration and Protection Foundation will be administering a second round of grants for maritime workers who directly supported the deepwater rigs that were affected by the moratorium after the 2010 oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

The application period for these maritime claims will be open from March 15, 2011 through May 13, 2011. According to the Gulf Coast Restoration & Protection Foundation, “only individuals who were predominantly engaged on May 6, 2010 in direct support of any deepwater drilling rig subject to the U.S. government moratorium may qualify for grants in Round 2.” Each grant is expected to range from $3,000 to $30,000 depending upon the unique factors affecting each applicant.

Applications can be obtained on the Gulf Coast Restoration and Protection Foundation website. Applicants can also call a toll free hotline at: 866-577-8141 for additional information or to obtain a paper application packet. Maritime workers who are interested in applying for this grant should start gathering pay stubs, income tax returns for 2009 and 2010 and other financial data as this information may be required to complete the application. If you require legal assistance for maritime claims or have any questions regarding a potential claim, you should contact a law firm with extensive experience in Jones Act injury cases and other maritime claims for immediate assistance.

Most Jones Act claims are premised on the existence of one or more negligent acts on the part of a maritime employer that caused an injury to a seaman. However, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that Jones Act claims may also be based upon the violation of a safety statute. These types of cases invoke a legal principle called “negligence per se.” These types of cases are generally easier to prove since the seaman only needs to show that a safety statue was violated and that his injury was a direct result of the violation. In traditional “negligence” Jones Act claims, the seaman must prove a series of elements such as duty, breach and causation.

In the case of Kernan v. American Dredging Co., 355 US 426 (1958), a seaman lost his life when the tugboat that he was working on caught fire. The fire started when an open-flame kerosene lamp on the deck of the vessel ignited highly flammable vapors that were lying above an accumulation of petroleum products that were spread over the surface of the water. At that time, maintaining a lamp at a height of less than eight feet violated a navigation rule set forth by the Commandant of the United States Coast Guard. The lamp on the tugboat was hung only three feet from the surface of the water, thereby violating the statute.

The defendant in this case argued that the initial purpose or intention of the Coast Guard statute was not designed to protect against ship fires. The court disregarded this argument and found that a “violation of a statute by a Jones Act employer constitutes negligence per se if the violation contributes to the injury, even though the statute was not designed to prevent a specific harm to a seaman.” However, certain laws and statutes have failed to give rise to per se negligence Jones Act claims in subsequent case law.