Crewmembers who have not been paid their full wages – whether or not they have been injured or suffered an illness – are entitled to make a claim for their wages. They have a right under the General Maritime Law to sue for breach of the seaman’s contract for the wages due. And, if the vessel on which the crewmember was employed was on a voyages between a port in the United States and a port in a foreign country, except a port in Canada, Mexico, or the West Indies, the crewmember may have a claim under The Seaman’s Wage Act, 46 U.S.C. § 10313.
The Seaman’s Wage Act mandates as follows: “When a seaman who has signed an agreement is discharged improperly before the beginning of the voyage or before one month’s wages are earned, without the seaman’s consent and without the seaman’s fault justifying discharge, the seaman is entitled to receive from the master or owner, in addition to wages earned, one month’s wages as compensation.”
The Act also mandates: “At the end of a voyage, the master shall pay each seaman the balance of wages due the seaman within 24 hours after the cargo has been discharged or within 4 days after the seaman is discharged, whichever is earlier. When a seaman is discharged and final payment of wages is delayed for the period permitted by this subsection, the seaman is entitled at the time of discharge to one-third of the wages due the seaman.”
And the Act also mandates: “[W]when payment [at the end of a voyage] is not made … without sufficient cause, the master or owner shall pay to the seaman 2 days’ wages for each day payment is delayed.”
Wage Claims With Injury or Illness
Working at sea is an inherently dangerous profession. While crewmembers faithfully perform their duties, they regularly put themselves at risk for serious injuries. The ramifications of suffering a workplace injury are typically devastating.
The financial strain from lost wages can place enormous stress on injury victims at a time when the focus should be on healing. Fortunately, the law gives injury victims the right to file claims in order to recover lost wages while plaintiffs take time to heal.
Maritime Negligence Claims
While not all accidents are avoidable, many of them arise out of the negligence and carelessness of a ship’s captain, crew, or owner. In these instances, crewmembers unable to work due the preventable accident may be able to recover lost wages under The Jones Act.
At BRILL & RINALDI, The Law Firm, our attorneys put their years of experience to work for our clients. Our law firm regularly represents crewmembers hurt in the line of duty by someone else’s careless disregard for safety. If you or a loved one were hurt while performing your duties in service to vessel and are suffering from a lost of income due to your injury, contact our office for a consultation about your case.
The Jones Act
The main legal avenue for injured crewmembers to recover for their lost wages following a serious injury is The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, commonly known as The Jones Act. The Act allows injured crewmembers hurt by acts of negligence on the part of the ship’s captain or crew to sue their employer.
The law requires everyone, including the ship’s captain and crew, to take reasonable steps to prevent placing others at undue risk. Sailors have a right to a safe and secure workplace, and the employer of those who breach this duty may be held accountable under The Jones Act.
Under The Jones Act, plaintiffs must prove their injury was sustained in some slight part by the negligence or carelessness of another. Negligence is defined as the standard of care other reasonable individuals would exercise to prevent injuries to themselves or others.
Examples of negligence by a ship’s captain or crew include:
- Failure to properly maintain the ship or her appurtenances or equipment
- Failure to hire, train, and supervise crew members
- Failure to provide proper tools and equipment to crew members
Who can file lost wage claims under The Jones Act?
To bring claims under The Jones Act, injured parties must be seaman in service of a vessel on a navigable body of water. Plaintiffs must demonstrate that they:
- Contributed to the operations of the vessel either while at sea or port
- Had an employment-related connection which exposed them to the “special hazards and disadvantages that are characteristic of a seaman’s work”
- Spent 30 percent of their time performing tasks related to the navigation of a vessel
Unseaworthiness Lost Wage Claims
Under federal maritime laws, shipowners have a legal duty to provide and maintain a seaworthy vessel to the crew manning it. No other parties are responsible for this obligation. Furthermore, shipowners are ultimately responsible for all of the ship’s parts and equipment and must ensure they are able to perform their tasks as designed.
Although courts hold ships do not require the “best parts and equipment, or the finest of crews” or even to furnish an accident-free ship, they must none the less provide reasonable accommodations to suit the task at hand. Vessel owners must ensure their ship is operated by a competent and properly trained crew.
Courts may hold a ship is unseaworthy if:
- Parts or equipment are not fit for their intended purpose
- The crew is not competent or adequately trained to perform their duties
Burden of Proof in Unseaworthiness Claims
The burden of proof in claims alleging a vessel’s unseaworthiness is higher than the burden of proof in claims alleging negligence under The Jones Act. Plaintiffs must prove the ship was unseaworthy and was a substantial factor in causing the infliction of the injury.
While the burden of proof is higher in unseaworthiness claims, plaintiffs do not need to show the entire vessel was dangerous or at risk of sinking. Plaintiffs only have to prove part of the vessel was furnished with unsafe equipment or the ship had an incompetent crew.
Do Maintenance and Cure Benefits Cover Lost Income?
Under general U.S. maritime law, injured and sick crew member are entitled to maintenance and cure benefits while they recover from their injuries and illnesses. This refers to the room and board the crew member would have received while out at sea and any medical expenses related to treating the injury or illness. Maintenance and cure is a no-fault system, meaning no matter who is at fault in a maritime workplace accident or illness, benefits must be paid.
While maintenance and cure does provide financial benefits to cover necessary living expenses like paying rent, mortgages, certain utilities, property taxes, and food, it does not specifically cover lost income. Injured crew members must make separate claims for lost wages under The Jones Act or maritime law.
There is no conflict to filing claims for both maintenance and cure and Jones Act lost wage claims. Injury victims must keep in mind negligence must be proven in Jones Act suits, whereas no such burden is required in maintenance and cure claims.
Florida Maritime Injury Attorneys
If you or a loved one were hurt in a maritime accident, contact BRILL & RINALDI, The Law Firm, to discuss your legal options. While wrongdoers will often go to great lengths to cover up their negligence and skirt responsibility, our firm remains committed to helping those in need. Our attorneys help clients maximize the compensation they need to move forward with the healing process and get back to work.
The hardworking and dedicated attorneys of our maritime law office have years of experience prosecuting these types of claims and will work tirelessly to help you recover compensation for your lost wages. Our attorneys can help investigate the cause of your accident, ascertain the liability of negligent parties, and file all the necessary paperwork to get you and your family justice.
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