Jones Act / Crew Member Injuries

Towboat

When a river worker or Great Lakes crewmember is injured on the job, great care should be taken to document the facts. Deckhands, engineers, cooks and other maritime crewmember injuries are not covered under state workers’ compensation. Your maritime injury will be handled differently than a friend who has a land based work accident in Smithland, Kentucky, Tell City, Indiana or Gallipolis, Ohio.

A deckhand or other tug boat crewmember injured on the Ohio River, Kanawha River, Big Sandy River, Kentucky River or Great Lakes is eligible to receive benefits in a two- tiered system.

The first tier of benefits a master, mate, pilot or deckhand may be eligible to receive is maintenance and cure.

If you are decking on the Ohio River in Cincinnati, Ohio, Paducah, Kentucky or Huntington, West Virginia under the General Maritime doctrine of Maintenance, you will initially be entitled to receive a daily stipend. Maintenance is intended to replace the value of room and board the seaman or Jones Act worker receives while on the vessel. If the injured river worker or Great Lakes seaman is covered under a union contract, the daily maintenance rate may be set by agreement. If the river employer has not entered into a contractual agreement or collective bargaining agreement with its workers, the maintenance rate may be determined by proof of living expense. An injured towboat worker may establish the applicable maintenance rate by evidence of daily living expenses including rent and food. In Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and West Virginia, river companies pay in the range of $20.00 to $40.00 dollars per day, 7 days per week. The uniform daily rate determined by the Jones Act employer is not binding, in the absence of a contract that sets the rate. Even though a towboat company pays maintenance at the rate of $15.00 a day, you may be able to establish a higher rate. The reasonable value of room and board in Maysville, Kentucky may not be the same as in Pt. Pleasant, West Virginia or Evansville, Indiana.

Under the General Maritime doctrine of Cure the ship-owner must pay for reasonable and necessary medical expenses until the Jones Act seaman reaches maximum medical improvement.

A crewmember who has been injured on the job is eligible to receive maintenance and cure without regard to whether the ship-owner was at fault.

The second tier of damages available to an injured maritime river worker arises if the worker can establish that the employer was negligent or the towboat / ship was unseaworthy. Under the Jones Act, if a crewmember is injured within the scope of his/her employment as the result of the employer’s negligence, a full array of damages is available. Comprehensive damages may also be available under the General Maritime Law if the vessel was unseaworthy.

If the injured worker can establish negligence or unseaworthiness, he/she may be able to recover past loss wages, the loss or reduction of future wage earnings capacity, past medical bills, reasonably likely future medical bills, pain and suffering, past, present and future.

When filling out an accident report it is important to carefully note any failure of equipment, dangerous conditions on-board the towboat or other factors that contributed to the accident. Being injured on the boat does not guarantee the recovery of full damages. You have to prove your employer was negligent or the vessel was unseaworthy to collect the second tier of damages.

Jones Act jurisdiction is invoked when a worker moves beyond the water’s edge, boards a vessel or identifiable fleet of vessels and performs services while the vessel is underway. Any seaman who suffers personal injury in the course of his/her employment may assert an action for damages with the right of trial by jury. Examples of Jones Act seaman occupations include deckhand, mate, lead man, pilot, engineer and cook.

Deckhands, pilots and other crewmembers also have the opportunity to pursue an action against the vessel owner under the seaworthiness doctrine. A vessel owner has an absolute duty to maintain a seaworthy ship and is strictly liable for personal injuries suffered by crewmembers caused by a vessel's unseaworthiness.

A careful examination of an injured worker’s job duties and the nature of the employer’s business will help identify the proper compensation system and causes of action to maximize your potential recovery.

Steve Schletker has a deep appreciation of the difficulties and dangers associated with working on the river and the Great Lakes. A call to Steve will start the process of protecting your rights. Your case will be given personal attention by an experienced attorney who will walk you through the legal process. Call today for a free consultation.