AlaskaJobFinder is committed to giving you the most helpful information, member or not, to make your Alaska Job not only fun, challenging, and rewarding, but also to let you know about special rights you have under maritime law. Say, for example, you and your fellow fishermen take a work break from salmon season fishing and go for a night of camping on beautiful Kodiak Island in June. This just happens to be at the same time of year when Momma Bear Grizzly comes out of hibernation, very hungry, and successfully makes a meal out of two of you (yes, this happens!). Or, you go to the fridge to get some chocolate ice cream only to find a human hand in a plastic bag in the ice cream container (actual case). Or, perhaps, you are inside of a crab pot putting bait inside only to have the pot launcher accidentally trigger throwing you, the bait, and the pot into the water making you crab bait (another true story). But there is very good news for you! There is no better place to injure yourself than working on or over water given U.S. law makes you an honest to goodness U.S. Seaman with the many extra protections and benefits only workers like you enjoy. AlaskajobFinder has contracted with Maritime Experts to provide you, for free, 24/7 immediate real-time consultation with a maritime law legal expert. You may contact the legal expert by telephone or email/social media contact. This is not an answering service. The telephone/email/dialog is answered 24/7 live by the legal expert. Click here for contact information. And yes, each of the three sample cases above are real and resulted in multi-million dollar maritime settlement. Here is some quick, fundamental maritime law information.
Most workers – Fisherman, Deckhand, wiper, maid, cook, all factory workers, wheelhouse, engineering, greaser, Bader tech, – you name it – every job position listed by AlaskaJobFinder on its home page (except cannery worker) are considered U.S. Seaman. You are a seaman so long as: (1) you are working on a vessel; (2) the vessel is in navigation (moving or moored); (3) your work contributes to the mission and function of the vessel. That’s it! So, what’s the big deal about being a seaman?
There is no better place on earth to be injured than when you are working as a seaman (or, on the railroad which relies on the same law). If you are injured or become ill – no matter how, even if it was your own mistake – you are entitled to: (1) Unearned wages – these are wages paid to you even if you did not earn them. If you have to quit work, or leave the vessel (not required) you are still entitled to what you would have earned just as if you had completed your contract; (2) Maintenance – this is a daily living expense paid to you roughly equal to the cost of living on the vessel. Currently, $50-$90 a day is common, depending on your location. You are paid this every day from the day you leave the vessel until the day you are finally declared at maximum medical improvement, that is, the day your doctor says there is no need for any more treatment; (3) Cure – this is medical, dental, psychological, hospital, physical therapy etc. You are entitled to have the full amount of this paid, no matter what the cost or how long it takes and you are allowed to choose your own doctor and medical treatment. Maritime Experts have had cases where medical expense alone was above $6,000,000.
The benefits listed above are all no-fault – which means how, when, where, or why the injury or illness occurred – even if you were at fault- benefits are all still due you. For example, you could be working on a vessel, get a toothache which turns out to be something that requires treatment on land – your employer/vessel owner is obligated to pay for this. Same thing for a heart attack. The vessel owner is still obligated to pay for your treatment, even if it’s unconnected to your work. If it starts while you are on the vessel, your total expenses of treatment bypass surgery to heart transplant – your medical expenses in total will be paid for. These rights are so strong you can not waive them. No matter what your contract says, you are entitled to maintenance, cure, and unearned wages. Maritime law is very complex and employers may also be completely unaware of what is required. Often the best way to clear up a problem is to just talk to your employer. Maritime Experts are here to help you, for free courtesy of AlaskaJobFinder. Maritime Experts represent seaman who are unable to obtain what they are entitled to and may be contacted by clicking here.
BEST BENEFIT OF ALL – COMPENSATION FOR PAIN, SUFFERING, LOSS OF EARNINGS – PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE – NO LIMIT ON AMOUNT OF RECOVERY!
As a seaman, maritime law protects you even further if you are injured and that injury is caused by either negligence or unseaworthiness. The amount of negligence causation need not be much – it is often referred to as the “featherweight” standard. If negligence was a cause, however slight, of your injury then the vessel owner/employer are responsible. Example – on a longliner fishing vessel the crew is down one person, causing the roller man (person who gaffs the fish as they come in) to work extra hours which leads to a wrist/tendon injury. Or, also on a fishing vessel, a jellyfish lands on deck causing a crewmember to slip and fall. Seaworthiness refers to the vessel itself, including all equipment and crew. If a vessel leaves shore understaffed, the vessel is unseaworthy. Similarly, if a guard is missing from any operating machinery, exposing moving parts, that too makes the vessel unseaworthy.
OK, so how much do I get? In most cases, much more than you would get from land-based injury, like, for example an auto accident. Also, in most cases, much more than from a State workers compensation program. Workers compensation does not allow you to bring a claim for damages. Everything is paid in accordance to a fixed schedule, and the amounts paid are often 10 to 20 times less than what seaman injury pays. But the incredible part of being a seaman is, there is no limit to the amount of damages, and under certain circumstances, there are even punitive damages! Not only that, your claim is considered a first-order lien against the vessel and the vessel itself can be arrested by the U.S. Marshall and sold to pay what you are owed! You get paid even before the bank does!
No one can ever tell you in advance exactly how much you will get for your claim, but Maritime Experts has a propriety case valuation calculator and a list of 500 settlements and verdicts which allows you to use two methods to evaluate your claim. You can go directly to the site of the CaseCalculator and similar settlements by clicking here or go directly to injuryatsea.com. This information is provided by InjuryAtSea.com. Both the CaseCalculator and the list of comparative cases is found on their home page. You may also be directed to this case evaluation by contacting Maritime Experts by clicking here. Individual claims can run from $10,000 (stubbed toe) to $15,000,000 or more for persons injured and still alive but are in a more or less persistent vegetative state. In general, the important factors in evaluating the value of a case are: 1. Amount of medical expenses; 2. Bodily injury and affect on wage earning capacity; 3. Who is at fault – seaman or vessel; 4, earnings of the seaman in the past; 5. All around pain and suffering from the time of the accident on, including the pain of any medical treatment including surgery, disfigurement and scaring, permanent impairment of body function.
(1) At The Time and Scene of the Accident. Seamen also have special privileges in Court. A seaman may file in State or Federal Court –it’s their choice. Also, in Federal Court, a seaman gets to decide whether the case will be tried to a Judge or jury. Many cases are settled out of Court. Most claims start with filling out paperwork while you are still on the vessel, if your injury does not require immediate shore-side treatment, usually someone on the vessel – purser, first mate, or the skipper will ask that you fill out paperwork while on the vessel – accident report, statement, medical records release. You should sign a medical records release. But all other paperwork including accident report, statement should not be filled out until you have had time to talk to an attorney if you can. Nothing requires you to do an accident report or make a statement, and most of the time shortly after an accident is the worst possible time to do this. Everything you put down can and will be used against you later. Sometimes, an injured person feels guilty, there is a tendency to blame yourself when in fact there was negligence or unseaworthiness as described above. Your job should be to document document, document.
Take pictures with your cell phone. Write down the names and get contact information for any witness.
(2) On Land, After An Accident. Once again, the first thing to do is talk to a maritime attorney. Maritime Experts will advise you immediately on what to do should you contact them here. Likely, a company rep. or adjuster will contact you immediately when you reach land or shortly thereafter. Maritime injury law is very complicated and sometimes a well-meaning company rep. or adjuster may be confused. But you must be on guard because even little mistakes can be very costly to you later. Do not give a statement until you have talked to a maritime lawyer. Don’t sign anything except a medical records release. Sometimes your ticket home or other benefit is conditioned on your signing a statement. This is illegal. Your employer has an obligation to pay for and return you to your hometown residence. Also, in some cases, you may be asked to sign a statement “I Quit” when the real reason for your stopping work is injury. This too is illegal. You can always tell someone who you think is over-reaching that you are going to get a maritime lawyer if they don’t back off. This can be very effective. You should tell the adjuster what you believe you need in the way of medical attention and ask that they provide that immediately. Most likely they will do so immediately and then fly you home to be treated by medical services at home.
(3) Dealing With An Adjuster. You should not be dealing with an adjuster. Your attorney should and will immediately get on the case for you. An attorney can make a simple phone call and from that time on the adjuster is obligated to talk to you attorney and not you. Most attorneys, including Maritime Experts, do not charge anything for getting the three basics above – maintenance, unearned wages, and your medical cure. You should never have to pay anything to an attorney in a maritime personal injury case. The attorney should only be paid at the end and only on a percentage of general damages. No recovery – no fee. The attorney will fill out all the required forms for you, make sure you are getting proper medical cure, and are paid your proper crew share.
(4) Negotiating, Mediating, Litigating Your Case. Most maritime cases are settled out of Court – approximately 95 %. Again, this is because the maritime law is on your side. The first job is to collect all of your medical records, make sure you are being paid enough daily maintenance and have received your crew share. If the injury is serious enough to cause you a loss of earnings or may require surgery and follow up, your attorney will hire and pay for expert witnesses for each area of injury that may apply to you. On major cases, it is not uncommon for an attorney to advance and pay for $50,000 to $150,000 or more for experts and litigation expense. Once you are close to finishing treatment it’s appropriate to begin to asses the value of your case. Your attorney prepares what is called a “demand letter” which outlines your case and how much you demand to settle your case – the very largest amount. Then, both sides meet with a maritime mediation and mediate the case. A very large amount of cases are settled at mediation – 70%. If your case does not settle at mediation a second mediation will occur. If it is still not settled, then the case will go to trial, where the case can be settled at any time or the parties wait for jury verdict of a Judge’s decision. If you are going the full litigation route it takes about 16 months from when you file your case in court to trial.
If failure to pay cure and failure to take responsibility for the seaman’s medical is intentional, a Court may award punitive damages. These damages can be very large as they are based, in part, on the value of the company. The purpose of punitive damages to ensure your rights as a seaman are protected. Failure to pay medical expenses, or the maintenance allowance, or the crew share or wages due is very risky and seldom occurs intentionally. Most employers and vessel owners are very respectful and diligent with providing a seaman with what he/she is due and punitive damages are not often in play.
Every seaman’s case is different. The best way to find advice is to hire an attorney, such as Maritime Experts (click here) For other conditions and limitations that may apply, please see our Terms of Service page here.