When people think generally about maritime accidents, what comes to mind? Perhaps a powerboat crash? A boating under the influence incident? Or, maybe even a cruise ship accident. But while the nature of maritime accidents varies incredibly widely, usually, when most people think of these types of cases, a passenger injury comes to mind.
However, as each Jones Act attorney at our firm well knows, there are just as many – if not more – crew member injuries at sea and in port. Most of these accidents are not publicized by the media, the same way, say, a serious passenger injury aboard a cruise line might. And unfortunately, as difficult as it can be at times for passengers to recover compensation following an injury at sea or in port, it is often even harder for a crew member to obtain their rightful damages.
Why is that?
Well, in short, maritime employers, including (if not especially) cruise ship companies, do everything they can to strip away the rights of their crew members before incidents even happen. For one, maritime companies almost always include arbitration clauses in their employment contracts that attempt to prevent crew members from being able to file claims in U.S. courts, and instead to go to a private arbitration that the cruise line pays for. These arbitrations are largely unregulated by any real rules, thus, crew members who are injured on the job may be prevented from obtaining compensation from their employer, even if the incident is due to the company’s own negligence in providing a safe working environment. Far too many maritime companies overwork employees to the brink of exhaustion, which almost invariably leads to severe accidents. Others fail to offer proper medical attention when a crew member requires it. A number of additional maritime companies neglect to maintain equipment in proper working order.
What’s worse, is that many shipowners now are acting worse because they think they can get away with it because of these arbitration provisions. And too many shipowners would rather pay a high price defense lawyer to try to avoid responsibility rather than just accepting responsibility where appropriate. And so that is the uphill battle that many crew members. And that’s where an effective maritime lawyer comes in to help and level the playing field.
It’s important, however, that any seafarer who has been hurt while in the service of their vessel understand that a Jones Act attorney can assist. The Jones Act was created with the intention of protecting the rights of injured seafarers in the event of a negligence-related accident, and can allow them to recover compensation from the owner of the vessel they are in the service of if the accident occurred due to the “unseaworthiness” of the vessel, such as the owner’s failure in selecting competent crew or failure to supervise dangerous tasks on board a ship.
Given the unique protective nature of the Jones Act, any crew member who has been injured while at work should consider consulting with an experienced Jones Act attorney to determine whether they have a viable claim. Unfortunately, the Jones Act generally only applies to incidents that occur in U.S. waters or between U.S. ports, or have some type of strong relation with the United States. Sadly, many foreign seafarers are left in a struggle when trying to obtain justice for their injuries.
Many other nations have maritime laws in effect that protect seafarers, but the best line of defense against an accident is to ensure an attorney skilled in maritime and admiralty law is contacted to review all available options.