As maritime and admiralty attorneys, we have to be well-versed in the Jones Act, and prepared to go to trial on behalf of our clients. But we wanted to discuss a couple of cases to help you understand what the Jones Act is, and how it can apply in cases where a seaman is injured in the course of his work. If you missed our previous blog on the Jones Act, here’s a quick briefing:
The U.S. Supreme Court recognized many years ago that commercial fishing was inherently dangerous. To that end, they deemed seamen wards of the court. The Jones Act provides seamen with legal recourse if they are ever injured due to their employers’ or co-workers negligence. The Jones Act is a federally legislated and mandated act, which allows seamen to sue their employer for damages caused by negligence. Railroad workers are also entitled to this same legal recourse. The Jones Act allows seaman and railroad workers to sue their employer as if the workers were a third party in tort, unlike Workers’ Comp, which is a no-fault claim.
Here are two important Jones Act cases that resulted in personal injury we have worked on:
Our client lost his arm while working for his employer. We tried this case and received a judgment verifying that he was a seaman. The verdict was $3.5 million. Next, the case went up to the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeals. They affirmed the initial finding that our plaintiff was a seaman and the defendant’s negligence caused the loss of our client’s arm. The employer appealed to the Louisiana Supreme Court. The Lousiana Supreme Court held that our client was a ship breaker, not a seaman, and that he was not entitled to the benefits of the Jones Act. Our client ended up with benefits from the Longshoreman and Workers Compensation Act, which were pretty sparse, and we were reminded that negligent parties will often do whatever they can to avoid taking financial responsibility for the injuries they cause to others. But we fought the good fight to the end.
In this case, we had a client who was injured while working as a welder on a jack-up rig. A jack-up rig is a vessel used to transport personnel or equipment across the water. It has legs, which are raised through a mechanical system. The jack-up rig is positioned off shore in shallow water, usually less than 200 feet deep. The legs are jacked down until they contact the bottom. Then the vessel continues to jack itself up out of the water and then drilling operations begin. This is the kind of vessel our client was working on. In this case, our client’s seaman status wasn’t contested. It was a question of whether the ship owner was negligent, or whether the injured seaman was responsible for his own injuries. In theJones Act, contributory negligence is a defense. This case was initially tried to a judge, meaning there was no jury. The judge apportioned fault between the seaman and the employer. This case was also litigated all the way through the Louisiana Supreme Court on the issue of the proper measure for future lost wages. This required the use of expert testimony on both sides, and it was hotly contested. We prevailed in this case, and our client was awarded $XXX,000.00. Needless to say, our client was pleased with the Louisiana Supreme Court’s final ruling, as were we. We hope this blog has been informative for you on how Jones Act cases are tried. Stay tuned for our next blog where we reveal what you need to know about the difference between Admiralty Cases and Maritime Cases. If you have further questions about this blog post or other legal matters, we welcome the opportunity to answer them for you. Please feel free to contact us toll-free at (866) 281-4774
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