Houston Maritime Law Attorneys
Injured Offshore? Get Arnold & Itkin in Your Corner! Serving Injured Offshore Workers Nationwide.
Just like any other industry, seamen are at risk for suffering work-related injuries any time that they are on the clock. The courts have recognized this and are continually working to protect injured seamen through general maritime law. Maritime law gives workers who have been injured offshore or in the maritime industry the chance to claim necessary compensation for any suffering of medical complications.
The following acts are foundational to maritime law:
- Jones Act
- Death on the High Seas Act
- Limitation of Liability Act
- Longshoreman & Harbor Workers Compensation Act
Though the above are critical, general maritime law is still the basis for all injuries sustained by seamen. It is important to have a comprehensive understanding of the general law before delving into the subsequent acts.
History of Admiralty & Maritime Law
Admiralty law (also known as maritime law) governs the conduct of vessels and incidents occurring at sea. Although most countries have their own laws regarding maritime commerce, seamen, and the conveyance of passengers, many aspects of admiralty law are recognized internationally through multilateral treaties. As ships provided one of the earliest methods for transporting goods over long distances, rules regulating shipping can be traced back to the ancient Greeks in approximately 900 B.C.
The concept of a separate legal authority regulating maritime issues was brought to the west by Eleanor of Aquitaine, who learned of the concept when she accompanied her first husband King Louis VII of France to the Mediterranean on the Second Crusade. The term admiralty law came from the British admiralty courts, who presided over maritime matters separately from England's common law courts. As the U.S. judicial system is based on the British system, amended admiralty laws were gradually incorporated into our legal system soon after the constitution was ratified.
Features of Admiralty Law
Maritime law set forth many of the basic legal tenants associated with the sea and seamen, including:
- The right of a rescuer to claim a Marine Salvage award for recovering property that was lost at sea.
- The right for creditors and seamen who are owed wages to have a Maritime Lien against a vessel as a security interest to insure they are paid.
The duty for ship owners to provide reasonable care to passengers.
- If negligence results in a passenger injury, suit may be brought against the ship owner just as if the injury had occurred on land.
The benefit of maintenance and cure, which requires ship owners to care
for crew injured in service to a ship.
- Maintenance obligates ship owners to provide seamen with basic living expenses until they can return to work, while cure obligates ship owners to provide free medical care even if that care is long-term or permanent until an injured seaman reaches the state of maximum medical cure (i.e. being returned as close as medically possible to the condition the seaman was in prior to the injury).
Jurisdiction in Maritime Law Cases
In the United States, jurisdiction over admiralty law matters was originally given to the federal courts. However, today most admiralty cases can be heard by both state and federal courts under the saving to suitors clause in Title 28 of the United States Code (28 U.S.C. § 1333). The exception to this is any matter involving maritime property; those cases may only be tried in federal court. If a state court presides over an admiralty or maritime case, the court is required to apply admiralty or maritime law rather than its state law.
How Does Maritime Law Provide for Hurt Workers?
Without maritime law, injured seamen would be left on their own to counteract suffering they sustained while working. Anytime a ship employee becomes injured or sick, the vessel owner is required to reimburse their losses. Maritime law refers to this reimbursement as maintenance and cure, meaning that until the seaman fully recovers, the employer must provide for their affliction. The court views this obligation as an unquestionable duty that the ship owner owes any seaman aboard their vessel. Seaman are also eligible to recover full wages for the length of the voyage during which they sustained injuries or illness. An employment contract may dictate the amount of unearned wages a seaman can receive.
Provisions for Maintenance & Cure
Maintenance and cure refer to the benefits a seaman is entitled to until he / she recovers and is fit for duty. However, there is a maximum medical improvement (MMI) limit that can control the amount of compensation received. Because many ship owners are loathe to pay the highest amount possible, they will either follow old maintenance rates (which can range from $15 to $35 a day) or regulate cure benefits by hand-picking covered medical treatments. The U.S. Supreme Court states the duty to provide maintenance and cure must be broad and inclusive. In the case of compensation, the seaman is almost always favored when skepticism is involved.
Recovering Full Costs for Maritime & Offshore Accidents
Following a serious accident, injured seamen may face a host of tangible and intangible costs. These do not only have an immediate impact, but can affect them for many years to come. In almost all cases, the immediate effects are obvious in the inability to work, the steep medical bills, and the pain and suffering associated with the injury or illness. Even the future costs of rehabilitation are often well-known. However, it is not always easy to see what the future costs of an injury will be. In some cases, the individual may require lifelong medical attention or may eventually pass away from the side effects. For this reason, it is crucial that the injured and their family recover just damages for the injury under maritime law.
Consider these costs that could result from a maritime injury or death of a seaman:
- Long-term rehabilitation
- In-home care
- Lost wages and earning capacity
- Future physical / emotional health complications
- Emotional and financial counseling
- Vocational rehabilitation
Maritime Injuries: Do You Know Your Rights?
After any type of accident, one of the most important things you can do is to ensure all of your needs are met: medically, legally, emotionally, and financially. However, this can be difficult. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind a few key issues that could be compromised.
- First, remember you have the legal right to select your own doctor. Never feel obligated to choose the doctor's office or attending physician your business and/or insurance company may be pushing on you. Often, you will need to see the recommended doctor for an evaluation, but this is the extent of your obligation as an employee. Who you choose for treatment is entirely up to you and should not be threatened by any employer or insurance adjuster you may be working with in regards to your case.
you are entitled to medical treatment. The provision of medical benefits is protected under the Jones Act, so
injured maritime workers need not worry about being compensated for the
cost of recovery. This is true regardless of who may be at fault for the
accident. Furthermore, the Jones Act protects injured seamen who may be
given differing opinions by doctors.
This means that if one doctor recommends treatment while another claims medical attention is not necessary, the disagreement will be resolved in favor of treatment. Unfortunately, many injured seamen have not been hurt for the first time. However, if a pre-existing condition is aggravated a the time of a current accident, then employers will be obligated to ensure that adequate coverage is provided to take care of the worsened symptoms. All that will be needed is an evidentiary statement made by your doctor on your behalf.
Remember that you are entitled to medical benefits and financial maintenance payments, whether or not you sign paperwork brought forth by an insurance adjustor. In fact, it is in your best interests to be particularly cautious of any documents brought to you by an insurance adjustor; these often don't have your safety and well-being as a priority. As such, you should be hesitant to sign any paperwork under the condition that medical benefits and/or maintenance payments rely on a signature.
- Third, do not believe that you are required to give a recorded statement after any sort of accident and/or injury in the offshore field. Of course, reporting the incident as quickly as possible is a crucial step of the process; however, attention must be paid to the fact that many accidents can affect the memory and mental functioning of an injured person. Therefore, it is unwise to record a statement of events that may later need to be adjusted—a process that can prove to be quite difficult.
From the initial filing of a claim to the preparation and proceedings of a court case, there are a number of instances in which your legal rights can be compromised. Unsympathetic employers and insurance companies care little, if at all, about the well-being of injured maritime employees. Therefore, is it imperative to seek legal representation from an attorney who does care about the future of your health and well-being.
Maritime Law as It Applies to Employers
Under general maritime law, ship owners are required to keep their vessels maintained per a certain standard. As the employer and owner, the vessel holder must preserve the safety and structure of the ship in a way that is appropriate for all employees on board. Manning, equipping, and supplying the vessel are all key aspects of a ship owner's duty according to maritime law. Subsequently, if an employee of the vessel becomes injured or ill due to a ship’s unseaworthiness, the owner will be held accountable for any loss by way of compensation.
Why Do I Need to Hire a Maritime Injury Lawyer?
If you are not ready to consider litigation, you should still consult with an experienced attorney to discuss your rights and the merits of your claim. In many instances, your company may ask you to sign an agreement or release in exchange for payment of unearned wages, maintenance, or medical benefits. It is imperative that you have any documents you are given reviewed by a competent maritime attorney before signing them so that you do not waive any of your rights of recovery. Perhaps the most important reason you need an attorney is the fact that employers and insurance companies have teams of lawyers representing them throughout this process. The goal of their attorneys is to dispose of your claim as cheaply as possible. The only way to level the playing field with your employer or the insurance company is to have an experienced attorney representing your interests. As an injured employee, you are new to the process, whereas your employer, his insurer, and their attorneys deal with these cases on a regular basis. It is critical to the outcome of your claim that you have a team who regularly handles maritime law claims.
Benefit of Hiring a Skilled Lawyer for Your Case
A lawyer experienced in maritime law can review the facts of your case and determine your best legal options.
They will do this by examining:
- Your worker status at the time of injury
- The seaworthiness of the vessel you were working on
- The timeframe for bringing a claim
- All other factors that may have contributed to your injury
Another reason you may benefit from hiring a lawyer is because they know how to deal with offshore companies. On your own, you may feel like you have no hope. After all, you're just one person and your company is likely an established corporation that knows how to handle injury cases so they come out on top. There is no reason why you can't have aggressive representation as well. You may feel as if any attorney will do, but if you are an offshore worker, you and your company are bound to a specific set of laws called maritime law or admiralty law. You need a lawyer who is well versed in this specific and specialized area of the law if you want to get the full amount of compensation that you are entitled to.
How to Choose the Right Maritime Law Attorney
Maritime law can be complex. Although these laws are designed to protect the rights and livelihood of maritime workers who become injured or ill on the job, they can be difficult to navigate and full of what seem to be roadblocks. This is why it's crucial to seek legal representation from an attorney who has a deep background in this highly specialized area of the law. It is essential to consult with and select an experienced lawyer with a proven record of success. When choosing a maritime law attorney, you should inquire about the number of cases they have tried. Do not allow an attorney to dance around your questions; you need to select someone who is prepared to give honest, direct answers to all of your inquiries.
Our Maritime Lawyers Can Help: Call (888) 493-1629 for a Free Consultation
At Arnold & Itkin, we have seen all too often how maritime injuries (both catastrophic and fatal) occur not only in the Gulf of Mexico, but also in our nation's inland waterways and throughout the oceans. For this reason, we remain wholly committed to helping injured workers and their families recover the compensation they deserve. We believe what we do is about more than just money. We work tirelessly to see that our clients recover not only financially, but physically, emotionally, and mentally. Our team is dedicated to helping the individuals who have suffered from life-changing injuries recover the compensation they need for past, current, and future costs. Armed with years of experience, we have a unique perspective in our approach, and we can work toward helping our clients receive the compensation that they need to pay for the long-term costs.
If you believe you have a case that falls under maritime law, don't hesitate to contact our firm. Arnold & Itkin is more than qualified to represent your rights and fight for the benefits that you deserve. Get in touch with our firm to learn more about how our experience can benefit you.