General Maritime Claims versus Jones Act Claims: What’s the Difference?

General maritime claims vs Jones Act claimsNew Orleans is not only famed for its vibrant culture and music but also as a crucial hub for maritime activity. Nestled by the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico, this bustling port city sees an array of maritime operations that are vital to the economy — and with these operations come unique legal challenges. At Lewis, Kullman, Sterbcow & Abramson, LLC, we specialize in maritime law, a complex field that protects the rights and safety of those who make their living on the water.

Understanding the legal landscape is crucial for maritime workers and their families, especially after an accident at work. Knowing the difference between general maritime law claims and Jones Act claims is a good place to start. These laws provide critical protections but differ significantly in how they are applied and what they offer to maritime workers. Whether you’re a seasoned seafarer or new to maritime professions, knowing these differences is key to protecting your rights.

Understanding Maritime Law

Maritime law, also known as admiralty law, governs a wide range of activities and issues that arise on navigable waters. This branch of law is essential for regulating maritime commerce, ensuring the safety of goods and passengers transported over water, and managing the working conditions and rights of maritime workers. Due to the international nature of maritime activities, this field of law often encompasses both domestic and international regulations and standards.

Historical Context and Legal Foundations

Maritime law has a long and complex history, evolving from a mixture of U.S. federal law principles, international legal conventions, and industry practices. It is primarily governed by federal statutes, including the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (also known as the Jones Act), the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, and various international treaties to which the United States is a party.

What Are General Maritime Claims?

General maritime law is derived from federal common law in the United States, governing interactions and disputes on navigable waters. Claims can be brought under general maritime law for a variety of issues, including but not limited to:

  • Maintenance and Cure
  • Unseaworthiness Claims
  • Wrongful Death

What Are Jones Act Claims?

The Jones Act provides protections to maritime workers who qualify as seamen who are injured in the course of their employment. Jones Act claims allow seamen to sue their employers for personal injuries suffered due to negligence by the employer or co-workers during the course of employment on a vessel.

Key Differences Between General Maritime Law Claims and Jones Act Claims

While both legal frameworks are designed to protect maritime workers, general maritime law and the Jones Act differ in several key aspects.

Eligibility Criteria

  • General Maritime Law: Can apply to a wider range of maritime workers, including dock workers, cargo handlers, and others involved in maritime operations who may not necessarily qualify as seamen.
  • Jones Act: Specifically for qualified maritime workers who qualify as seamen. This typically includes workers who spend a significant amount of their time working on vessels in navigation that contribute to the vessel’s function or mission.

To qualify as a Jones Act seaman, an individual must meet specific criteria:

  • Seaman Status: The worker must spend a significant amount of their employment time (typically at least 30% or more) working on a vessel or fleet of vessels under navigation, which contributes to the vessel’s function or mission.
  • Vessel in Navigation: The vessel must be in operation, afloat, capable of moving, and on navigable waters at the time the employee is working on it.

Types of Claims

Under general maritime law, workers can bring claims for:

  • Maintenance and Cure: This is a fundamental right, not technically a claim, but a legal obligation on employers to provide for basic needs (food, lodging, medical care) of injured seamen regardless of fault.
  • Unseaworthiness Claims: Arise when a vessel is found not to be reasonably fit for its intended purpose or lacking in equipment and crew competence, leading to accidents or injuries. The shipowner is held liable under this claim, regardless of fault, for injuries that result from the unseaworthiness.
  • Personal Injury and Wrongful Death: Applicable to a wider range of maritime workers and circumstances compared to the Jones Act. These claims can be brought against a ship owner or employers for negligence that caused the injury.

On the other hand, the Jones Act provides a negligence cause of action specifically for qualified seamen who are injured in the course of their employment.

Compensation that can be Recovered

Under general maritime law, workers may be able to recover:

  • Maintenance and Cure: Covers basic needs but not lost wages beyond the recovery period.
  • Unseaworthiness Claims: May cover medical expenses beyond “maintenance and cure” and lost wages.
  • Negligence Claims: May cover medical expenses not covered by maintenance and cure, lost wages, and potentially pain and suffering (depending on the specific circumstances and jurisdiction). However, the scope of recoverable damages, especially for pain and suffering, might be limited compared to the Jones Act.

The Jones Act potentially allows for a wider range of damages, including:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Lost future earning capacity
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress

Procedural Requirements

General maritime law claims do not require proving employment status as a seaman, which can sometimes simplify the claim process. Depending on the claim, they may be brought in either state or federal court.

Jones Act Claims must be filed under the Jones Act statute, and claimants must prove their status as seamen to qualify. These claims are usually filed in federal court, but seamen have the unique right to demand a trial by jury, which is not generally available under other types of maritime claims.

Burden of Proof

Under general maritime law, the burden of proof varies depending on the claim:

  • Unseaworthiness Claims: The worker needs to show the unseaworthiness caused the injury.
  • Negligence Claims: The worker needs to prove the employer’s (or other party’s) negligence caused the injury. This burden of proof can be higher than under the Jones Act.

Under the Jones Act, seamen only need to show that their employer’s negligence played any role (however small) in their injuries. This is a lower burden of proof compared to general maritime law.

Navigating Your Claim: Steps to Take After a Maritime Injury

When a maritime worker is injured, the steps taken immediately following the incident are crucial for securing the appropriate legal remedies and compensation. Understanding how to navigate your claim, whether it falls under General Maritime Claims or Jones Act Claims, is essential. Here’s a guide on what to do and how Lewis, Kullman, Sterbcow & Abramson, LLC can assist through the process.

Immediate Actions Post-Injury

  • Seek Medical Attention: Your health is the priority. Ensure that you receive immediate and appropriate medical treatment for your injuries. Documenting your injuries through medical records at this stage can be crucial for your claim.
  • Report the Injury: Notify your employer or the captain of the vessel as soon as possible. Most companies have specific protocols for reporting injuries. Follow these protocols meticulously to ensure that the incident is officially recorded.
  • Document Everything: Keep detailed records of everything related to the incident and your injuries. This includes taking notes on how the injury occurred, witness statements, photographs of the accident scene, and keeping all medical records and receipts associated with treatment.
  • Maintain Communication Records: Save all communications with your employer about the injury and your recovery. This can include emails, text messages, and written notes from any conversations.

How Lewis, Kullman, Sterbcow & Abramson, LLC Can Help

  • Expert Legal Guidance: Our firm has extensive experience in both general maritime law claims and Jones Act claims. We can help determine the most relevant claim based on your circumstances and ensure that your rights are fully protected throughout the process.
  • Case Preparation and Representation: We will help gather and analyze all necessary evidence, prepare your case, and represent you in negotiations or at trial if necessary. Our goal is to secure the best possible outcome for your case.
  • Maximizing Your Compensation: We understand the nuances of maritime law and will work tirelessly to ensure that you receive all the compensation you are entitled to, including maintenance and cure, damages for pain and suffering, lost wages, and more.

Take the Next Step Towards Justice with Lewis, Kullman, Sterbcow & Abramson, LLC

If you or a loved one has been injured while working in the maritime industry, you don’t have to navigate the legal waters alone. At Lewis, Kullman, Sterbcow & Abramson, LLC, our dedicated team of maritime lawyers is here to guide you through every step of your claim, ensuring that your rights are protected and that you receive the compensation you deserve.

Don’t wait to seek the help you need. Call (504) 588-1500 or contact us online for a free consultation to discuss your case. Our experienced attorneys are ready to provide you with personalized legal advice and robust representation.

Let Lewis, Kullman, Sterbcow & Abramson, LLC be your advocate in the maritime legal system. We’re committed to delivering justice for maritime workers.