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Seamen: Are you covered if you get hurt in an offshore accident?

You love being near the water—it’s soothing, calm and there is something very peaceful about it even when you are in the midst of hard work. Away from the land, you feel invigorated. That’s why you work on offshore rigs and barges. Anyone can work on the land, but you enjoy the camaraderie and satisfaction that comes from working closely with others who share your love of the outdoors.

For landlubbers who are hurt on the job, workers’ compensation exists to cover any workplace injuries. With workers’ comp, an individual can receive lost wages and medical care, but cannot file a separate lawsuit for pain and suffering or other personal injury claims.

How does it work on the water?

Workers’ comp does not cover employees who work on the water. So, if it doesn’t cover you, what does?

In 1920, the U.S. government codified the Merchant Marine Act—more commonly known as the Jones Act. The act covers maritime employees who spend at least 30 percent of their work hours on a “navigable vessel.”

This means a boat, ship or barge that is capable of moving, on the water and operational. It does not necessarily mean a vessel that is moving. A boat that is docked may still meet the qualification and, therefore, time worked while the vessel is being loaded or maintained can still be considered time toward the thirty percent requirement.

What can I get?

There are many different ways you can recover damages if you are hurt while working on a sea-going vessel. One of the most straightforward is “maintenance and cure.” This is the equivalent of workers’ compensation and includes a daily allowance to cover, among other things, lodging, meals and medical expenses.

What if there was negligence on the part of my company?

Maintenance and cure is fairly straightforward and easy to prove, although often the benefits are low and may not actually cover basic living expenses. An attorney skilled in maritime law can often help negotiate a larger payment for maintenance and cure.

But what if your injury was caused by negligence on the part of the ship’s officers or owners? Can you recover damages for a permanent injury caused by someone’s disregard for your safety?

The answer is yes. Where workers’ compensation precludes such suits, the Jones Act allows you to hold an employer liable when their neglect causes you injury or illness. Some of the more common reasons for initiating such a suit include safety issues, poorly trained staff and substandard maintenance of a vessel

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