North Carolina Jones Act Lawyers
Jones Act Cases
At Rhine Law Firm, P.C., our North Carolina maritime lawyers are committed to assisting injured seamen seek full compensation for damages after an injury, or assisting families who have lost a loved one who died working in this industry. These cases are governed by maritime law, also called "Admiralty law."
Who Can File a Claim Under the Jones Act?
To be eligible for compensation under the Jones Act, the injured person must meet the minimum eligibility requirements to meet the legal definition of a "seaman." These requirements are that the injured person spent at least 30% of his or her work schedule serving offshore, and that his or her duties contributed to the functioning of a U.S. flagged vessel.
Those who meet the eligibility criteria hold the right to file a personal injury claim under the Jones Act for injuries sustained while performing duties of offshore employment. The statute of limitations extends three years from the date of injury or death in which to file a claim.
Grounds for Filing a Negligence Claim in North Carolina
The Jones Act makes it possible for injured seaman to recover compensation when acts of negligence caused the injury or death. The types of negligent acts include the following:
- Failing to provide reasonably safe working conditions. These can include issues such as improperly maintained equipment, slippery or oily walking surfaces, a lack of proper equipment to safely perform duties, a failure to train, or a failure to require all crewmembers to follow safety rules while performing their duties.
- Reckless or extraordinarily unprofessional conduct. Actions taken by a seaman or employee aboard the vessel that resulted in another seaman suffering injuries or death. This form of negligence includes highly unprofessional or reckless actions.
- Deviations from ordinary course of conduct. If there are ordinary methods by which onboard duties are performed, and a crewmember deviated from those ordinary methods, leading to injury or death of another crewmember, this is likely grounds for filing a claim under the Jones Act.
- Failing to provide proper medical care after an injury. An injured seaman who has not been treated promptly by medical personnel may get suffer debilitating damage or die.
- Requiring workers to perform dangerous duties or employ unsafe methods. If onboard personnel are asked to perform dangerous duties or use unsafe methods, the employer can be held liable for injuries sustained.
- Failing to warn seaman of known dangerous conditions aboard. All workers must be informed of known hazards aboard for their own protection.
- Unseaworthiness of vessels that led to injuries or death. This form of negligence involves the condition on the vessel, equipment used on the vessel, or a crew that was unfit for the intended purpose, and any injuries that resulted from this specific unseaworthy factor.
In most standard cases based on negligence, it is necessary for the plaintiff to prove that the negligence demonstrated by the defendant was the primary reason for the injury. According to the Jones Act, the burden of proof is lower. In a claim, the plaintiff must simply prove that the defendant exhibited some degree of negligence. For example, if there were three distinct causes of the injury and only one could be attributed to the employer’s negligence, the claim may proceed. This lower burden is often referred to as a "featherweight" example of causation.
Maintenance and Cure Benefits Under the Jones Act
Those who meet the eligibility requirements under the Jones Act can file a claim for "maintenance and cure." Maintenance is the ship owner’s duty to pay for the injured seaman’s room and board while he or she is unfit for work. Cure is payment for reasonable and necessary medical care to the point of maximum medical improvement. This compensation is provided by the employer regardless of fault or negligence by either ship owner or seaman.
Maintenance and cure cover all medical costs, as well as any other medical need such as a prosthesis, medications, and ongoing treatment, as well as financial compensation for all basic living expenses over the period of recovery. However, maintenance and cure may not be enough.
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The theory of unseaworthiness allows injured seaman monetary recovery in a court of law if the vessel was deemed "unfit" to perform its intended purpose. Maritime law defines a ship as seaworthy when the hull, tools, and crew are reasonably sufficient in design and upkeep to execute the intended functions. The term does not imply that the ship in unable to operate, but rather that it is not safe and appropriate for performing work. The plaintiff does not need to show that the whole ship is not seaworthy, but that some part or set of conditions existed that were not fit and led to injury.
Contributory Negligence in Negligence Claims
Maritime laws and the Jones Act recognize comparative negligence in claims. The ship’s owner may employ this defense when the seaman contributed a degree of negligence that led to the injury. An example would be if the plaintiff acted in a way that furthered his risk of injury, although another option was available that reduced his injury risk.
Courts have ruled in the past that contributory negligence can be a "complete defense." This would be in a circumstance where the jury deems the plaintiff’s own negligence as the lone factor that led to the injury. In cases where the plaintiff is believed to have been the "sole proximate cause," the plaintiff would be unable to form a prima facie case.
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