In 1920, the United States Congress enacted the Jones Act to create a negligence cause of action for seaman against their employers, providing any seaman who suffers injury or death during the course of his employment may chose to maintain a civil action for damages at law, including the right to a trial by jury.
The Jones Act
The Jones Act extends to protections of the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (“FELA”) to seaman and therefore, FELA case law applies to Jones Act cases. In passing the Jones Act, Congress did not specifically list seaman’s rights, but extended seaman the same rights granted to railway employees by FELA.
Seamen may bring a Jones Act lawsuit in a United States federal court or state court. The right to bring an action in state court is preserved by the “savings to suitors” clause, 28 U.S.C. §1333. Hence, the “savings to suitors” clause allows state courts to exercise concurrent jurisdiction over common-law claims relating to maritime causes of action, including claims under the Jones Act.
The United States Supreme Court has held the Jones Act is entitled to liberal construction in order to accomplish its benefits and purposes to provide for the welfare of seamen. Liberal construction is necessary due to the seaman’s broad and perilous job duties.
Maintenance and Cure
A seaman is entitled to receive maintenance and cure based on establishing seaman status under the Jones Act. In order to qualify as a seaman under the Jones Act, the United States Supreme Court provided judicial guidelines to determine seaman status, including (i) the seaman’s duties must contribute to the function of the vessel or the accomplishment of said vessel’s mission and (ii) the seaman is required to have a connection with the vessel in navigation substantial in terms of duration and nature. If the seaman is able to show significant part of his work was performed on board of a vessel with at least some degree of regularity or continuity, the test for seaman status is met.
Maintenance and cure is a legal obligation imposed on the owner of a ship to provide food, lodging and needed medical services to seaman who become ill or injured during service to a ship. The seaman’s burden of proof in obtaining maintenance and cure is relatively light and recovery is not dependent upon negligence of the owner or vessel. In fact, the seaman only needs to prove his injury arose during service of the vessel; he is not required to prove a causal connection of his injuries to duties relating to the vessel. The seaman’s right to maintenance and cure exists irrespective of fault. Hence, remedy is essentially curative in nature rather the compensatory.
Cure is payment for the injured seaman’s medical, therapeutic and hospital expenses until maximum medical recovery is reached. A seaman’s right to cure is not based on fault and therefore, the ship owner is not entitled to apportionment of fault in an attempt to reduce liability of the seaman’s medical expenses.
Courts consider the following factors to determine fairness of an award for exemplary damages: (i) nature and extent of harm to the seaman, (ii) wealth or financial situation of the ship owner, (iii) extent to which the conduct offends a sense of justice and propriety, and (iv) amount necessary to deter such intentional, willful or wanton conduct in the future.
If you or a loved one has been injured while working as a seaman, it is important that you contact a Jones Act Attorney who is experienced with these types of cases. The Jones Act Lawyers at Cueria Law Firm, L.L.C., has successfully handled numerous Jone Act Cases. Cueria Law Firm, L.L.C. will make sure you and your loved ones get the justice and compensation you deserve.