Maritime injuries are different than injuries suffered ashore. Not only are they easier to suffer (think pitching vessels and saltwater-slick decks), but the remedies and processes to seek compensation are different. There's a lot of meat on this bone, but let's focus on two issues you might have reason to remember in the future.
First, don't let anyone tell you otherwise, crewmembers are and must remain wards of the admiralty court. That is, the courts give crewmember special attention and protection. I've read a few things lately urging a change of course on this point and that's flat-out boardroom talk, in my opinion. Oh, the platitudes begin, but sailors today are in a different spot what with protections afforded by modern technology, strong unions and well-run ships. They have smartphones or they have the Internet is what my disbelieving ears hear. Really? Not so and the maritime courts don't seem to think so either.
Still, the scope of these protections is not unlimited. In my experience, where there's no overreaching, the court is not going to unduly favor a crewmember to the prejudice of her employer or the ship owner. By tucking a crewmember under its judicial wing, the admiralty court is simply making certain the seas are even and the fight is fair.
Second, the Jones Act is a federal statute allowing a crewmember to sue his or her employer to recover for injuries. In a relatively recent appeal involving the Jones Act, the issue was whether a crewmember could seek damages for an injury caused by excessive stress and an erratic sleep schedule. The appellate court said nope, you need an injury caused by a physical peril to recover under the Jones Act handing the employer an appellate win.
An elegantly written dissent (meaning not every judge on the appeals court agreed with this outcome) explains why I, too, disagree with this outcome. The plaintiff pleaded and proved to a jury's satisfaction that the corporation's working environment which included average workdays of 16 hours caused physical damage to his heart. The jury, the dissenting opinion explains, was asked to identify whether the injury was "emotional" or "physical" and decided it was a "physical" injury. Deference, the dissent says, should've been given to the jury. Indeed, indeed.
The injured maritime worker has special protections unique to his or her employment. On top of a Jones Act remedy, injured crew may also have claims for unseaworthiness, maintenance and cure and punitive damages. Whatever the situation, the maritime legal waters are fraught with coral heads and weather shores necessitating an experienced maritime injury attorney pilot your claim to success. Always speak to a maritime attorney to best understand your legal rights.
This article is provided for your general information, is not legal opinion and should not be relied upon. Always seek legal counsel to understand your rights and remedies.
Underway and making way.
John K. Fulweiler, Esq. is a Proctor-in-Admiralty representing individuals and small businesses in maritime matters including personal injury claims throughout the East and Gulf Coasts and with his office in Newport, Rhode Island. He can be reached at 1-800-383-MAYDAY (6293) or visit his website at www.saltwaterlaw.com.