The rights of injured maritime workers vary from those on land

Frank S. Clowney III

There are many legal protections in place for workers who get hurt on the job. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a California worker who isn’t at least somewhat aware of their rights to medical coverage and disability insurance under workers’ compensation from their employer.

What many maritime workers don’t realize until they get hurt on the job is that the standard workers’ compensation benefits available to other California employees end when their job takes them out to sea. Maritime workers have protection under the Jones Act when they need compensation for an injury or illness that results from their jobs out on the open ocean.

Maritime workers have protection under the Jones Act

Employers who operate on the ocean fall into a sort of legal gray area. Some companies take advantage of operating in international waters by offering entertainment, like gambling, that wouldn’t be legal back on shore, while others must be out on the water by the very nature of their business operations.

While they may have headquarters within the United States, their actual operations don’t take place on domestic soil. Because of that, the benefits and protections that apply to domestic workers, including workers’ compensation, don’t extend to those working on cargo ships, oil rigs or entertainment vessels like cruise ships.

Thankfully, the Jones Act or The Merchant Marine Act of 1920 extends similar protections to workers whose jobs take them out to sea, but with more restrictions than workers’ compensation. Under the Jones Act, injured workers have the right to seek compensation in cases involving negligence by employers or unseaworthy conditions of vessels on which they work.

Jones Act claims are nowhere near as straightforward as workers’ compensation

Although it can sometimes be a mistake to do so, quite a few workers will file their initial workers’ compensation claims on their own behalf. Even in that case, mistakes with documentation and language on paperwork can have serious consequences.

When it comes to maritime workers who need compensation under the Jones Act, handling the application process on their own may not be in the best interests of the workers. The complex claims process often requires legal assistance from an attorney familiar with this unique system of legal protection for maritime workers.