Representing Cruise Ship Crewmembers and Injured Seamen From Around the World

Seafarers around the world face daily hazards inherent in working at sea and unsafe working conditions created by vessel owners and operators. Injuries under such conditions are therefore common. If you are injured while on the vessel, or even off the vessel, while being in the service of the vessel, such as when you travel to the ship to begin a contract or while on shore leave, you are entitled to the protection of the Jones Act as well as maritime law remedies under the doctrines of unseaworthiness and maintenance, cure and unearned wages.

Experienced Los Angeles Jones Act Attorney

What is the Jones Act?

The Jones Act (46 U.S.C. § 30104 and also known as the “Merchant Marine Act of 1920”) is a U.S. federal statute protecting seafarers injured or killed due to their employer’s or fellow co-worker’s negligence. Unlike limited state worker’s compensation benefits for workers ashore, the Jones Act provides broad remedies in the case of injury or death of a seaman.

Who is a Jones Act Seaman?

To qualify as a Jones Act seaman, an employee must contribute to the function of the vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission and must have connection to a vessel in navigation that is substantial in duration and nature. Courts have established that this requires an employee to spend at least 30% of his or her time during work aboard the vessel in navigation.

Crewmembers employed aboard cruise ships are all considered Jones Act seamen and include captains, officers, engineers, housekeeping employees, cooks, waiters, bartenders, dancers and other entertainers, as well as hair salon, spa and gift shop employees. Crewmembers employed aboard cargo ships, container ships, tankers, tow and tug boats, supply boats, ferry boats, fishing vessels and recreational boats and yachts for hire are all covered by the Jones Act.

What Constitutes Jones Act Negligence by the Employer?

The Jones Act requires an employer to provide a seaman a reasonably safe place to work and reasonably safe tools and equipment. The breach of that duty by the employer, its officers, agents or employees is considered negligence.

Examples of negligent acts include:

  • Failure to properly train a seaman to do the assigned job safely
  • Failure to provide proper equipment and safety gear
  • Providing defective equipment
  • Requiring work in a dangerous environment or unsafe manner
  • Maintaining defective or hazardous conditions or machinery on the ship that can cause slips and falls, burns and other injuries
  • Failure to provide sufficient crew to complete the assigned work
  • Failure to provide competent co-workers
  • Requiring excessive pushing, pulling or heavy lifting without proper safety equipment
  • Unsanitary conditions aboard the ship causing injuries and illnesses
  • Inadequate policies and/or supervision of crew to prevent sexual or violent assaults and harassment
  • Failure to promulgate or enforce safety rules
  • Failure to correct known dangerous conditions or clear foreign substance on decks or ladders
  • Failure to inspect to identify dangerous conditions or warn of known dangers
  • Failure to provide proper medical treatment

Unseaworthiness

A seaman working aboard a vessel in navigation is entitled to a seaworthy vessel. The employer, vessel owner or operator has an absolute and non-delegable duty to provide a safe vessel that is reasonably fit for its intended purposes, is properly equipped and has sufficient and competent crew. Unseaworthiness of the vessel includes defects aboard the ship and its equipment or appliances, unsafe conditions such as slippery decks and ladders, improper methods of operations, unsafe procedures, insufficient or incompetent crew, inadequate training of crew, excessive work schedules, unsafe ladders, stairs or gangways, improper, inadequate or defective safety gear or lighting, and violations of safety rules or statutes

Jones Act and Unseaworthiness Damages

A seaman injured due to his employer’s negligence or unseaworthiness of the vessel is entitled to recover damages for his or her losses. If you were injured while working on a vessel you may be entitled to recover compensation for past and future pain and suffering, disability, disfigurement, loss of use and enjoyment of life, past and future medical expenses, and loss of past and future wages and earning capacity. Attorney Aksana M. Coone has extensive experience with Jones Act cases and can help you recover the compensation to which you are entitled.

Maintenance, Cure and Unearned Wages

Seamen who are injured or suffer an illness while in the service of the vessel are entitled to “maintenance” which is a payment of a daily living allowance to substitute for the room and board that was provided aboard the vessel while the seaman is receiving medical treatment ashore. “Cure” is the payment of medical treatment to help the seaman recover from the illness or injury and includes doctor visits, hospitalizations, physical therapy treatments, surgeries, diagnostic tests and also the costs of transportation to and from medical appointments. Both maintenance and cure must be paid by the employer until the seaman has reached “Maximum Medical Improvement” or “MMI” which is the time when the injury or medical condition is either cured or is deemed to be permanent in nature and one that will not be further improved with medical treatment. Unearned wages or sick wages, are wages payable to the seaman for the remainder of the voyage or contract the seaman would have worked but for the illness or injury. Unearned wages are different from earned wages in that earned wages are those wages actually earned during employment. If the employer fails to pay earned wages, you may have a claim for breach of contract for the payment of wages and/or for penalty wages. The obligation to pay maintenance and cure is absolute and does not depend on the shipowner’s negligence or any fault. The employer must promptly investigate and pay these benefits. Failure to do so could subject the employer to the payment of the seaman’s attorney’s fees and even punitive damages in cases of willful disregard of the obligation.

Penalty Wages

U.S. crewmembers and foreign crewmembers working aboard vessels that sail to and from U.S. ports are entitled to penalty wages if they have not been paid all their wages within 24 hours after the cargo has been discharged or within 4 days after the seaman is discharged, whichever is earlier. Foreign crewmembers are entitled to recover penalty wages if they are discharged in a U.S. port. The penalty is statutory (46 U.S.C. § 10313) and provides for the payment of 2 days of wages for each day payment of owed wages is delayed. Cruise lines and other shipowners are not always clearly violating the obligation to pay wages timely. At times, the failure to pay wages is hidden in a scheme that reduces the seaman’s wages via the form of payment, distribution of tips, demands for reimbursements for expenses, unlawful deductions from wages, or changes in certain benefits. If your employer changed your compensation in a manner that reduces your wages, the employer may be violating the penalty wage statute.

Attorney Aksana M. Coone has broad experience with penalty wages class actions involving thousands of crewmembers. Contact us today to see if you have a valid claim.

Get the Help You Need From an Experienced Seafarer Maritime Attorney

If you or a loved one were injured or killed on the job, harassed by your co-workers, sexually assaulted aboard the ship, wrongfully terminated from your employment, received improper medical care either on or off the ship, or are not being paid your wages or benefits, we can help. You owe it to yourself or your loved one to seek the compensation that you deserve. You may have a right to sue for Jones Act negligence, unseaworthiness, maintenance cure and unearned wages and penalty wages, as well as breach of an employment contract, wrongful discharge from employment and wrongful death.

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