If you have been injured at your job in the maritime industry, then your injury may be covered by either the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (Longshore Act) or the Jones Act – but not both. The real challenge is understanding the difference between the two laws so you can determine under which law your injury falls.
In this article, we will delve into the basics of both Acts, the differences between the two, and why there is confusion as to whether they overlap. Given that there is some complexity in differentiating between the Longshore Act and the Jones Act, it is always smartest to obtain the services of an experienced Longshore Act attorney.
We at Doolittle & Tucker know the difficulties that confront workers injured on the job. Our expert team has decades of experience, and a proven track record of success, helping injured clients navigate Longshore Act and even Jones Act issues. Because there are some short deadlines with regard to workers’ compensation claims under the Longshore Act, call us as soon as possible for a free consultation at 904.396.1734.
The Longshore Act
The purpose of the Longshore Act is to provide compensation and medical treatment for employees who suffer injuries occurring on the navigable waters or ports of the United States.
The employees covered by the Longshore Act are those engaged in maritime work, or in a maritime occupation on the navigable waters of the U.S. or in adjoining waterfront areas. That includes a longshoreman or other person in longshoring operations, and any harbor worker, such as workers who repair, build, or break down ships. Notably, however, the Longshore Act does not cover masters or crew members of a vessel.
With regard to benefits provided, the Longshore Act is a workers’ compensation program. Accordingly, the types of benefits provided include:
- Medical care
- Disability compensation
- Job rehabilitation compensation
- Death benefits
Typical of most workers’ compensation programs, benefits for pain and suffering, and loss of quality of life are not available under the Longshore Act.
The Longshore Act is administered by the U.S. Department of Labor. There are a number of deadlines, forms, and notice requirements connected to the Longshore Act, which all go through the Department of Labor.
The Jones Act
The Jones Act, originally passed by Congress in the 1920s and most recently updated in 2006, was designed specifically for protection against negligence in the maritime industry. The notion of “negligence” in this context is rather broad and could include injuries that were the result of a poorly trained crew, too few crew members on a vessel, or improperly secured cargo, to name a few.
The people covered by the Jones Act include any seaman, from the captain down to the lowest level worker, who spends at least 30% of his or her time on board an “in navigation” vessel, and whose duties contribute to the ship’s function. “In navigation” means that a vessel is floating and operable, whether the vessel is at sea or in port. A vessel that is in a dry dock is not considered to be “in navigation,” for purposes of the Jones Act.
The Jones Act, in contrast to the Longshore Act, is not a workers’ compensation program. Rather, the Jones Act allows for negligence lawsuits in court. As such, the benefits available to injured seaman are those that typically can result from a negligence lawsuit, including a daily living allowance, medical costs, pain and suffering, and punitive damages. The family of seamen who were fatally injured can also sue under the Jones Act.
The Differences: Longshore Act vs. Jones Act
At first blush, it may seem like the Longshore Act and the Jones Act cover the same territory because they both deal with the maritime industry. But, in fact, the Acts are mutually exclusive. If you get a remedy under one Act, then the other Act is not available to you. Indeed, the Acts are quite different. The areas of difference are in who is covered, what benefits are available, and where the Act is administered.
- Who is covered. The Longshore Act covers any maritime workers who are not masters or crew members of a vessel. The Jones Act, by contrast, only covers seamen who spend more than 30% of time towards the functioning of an “in navigation” vessel.
- What benefits are available. The Longshore Act, being a workers’ compensation program, provides benefits for injuries that do not include pain and suffering or punitive damages. The Jones Act is not part of a compensation program, but rather is permission to sue in a court of law for negligence. That means that all legal remedies, including pain and suffering and punitive damages, are available.
- Where the Act is administered. The Longshore Act is regulated by the Department of Labor. The Jones Act, however, is handled in court like any other lawsuit. There is right to a jury trial under the Jones Act, and no government agency is involved. Thus, the parameters of the Longshore Act do not apply to the Jones Act.
The Uncertainty as to which Act Applies
In theory, it is clear why the Longshore Act and the Jones Act are mutually exclusive. The Jones Act covers vessel masters and crew members, and the Longshore Act covers the remainder of workers in the maritime industry on the sea and at seaports. However, in practice uncertainty abounds.
The uncertainty arises in terms of where an injury worker belongs. Determining whether someone contributes to a vessel 30% of his or her time, and therefore is a “seaman” for Jones Act purposes, is a fact-sensitive inquiry. Similarly, the definition of a vessel or whether it is “in navigation” has potential for many “gray areas.”
Thus, having a seasoned LHWCA attorneys to assist you is vital to determine how to deal with a work injury. Given that the Jones Act carries the potential for much greater compensation, you need to understand what your options are. The firm of Doolittle & Tucker understands your need to get answers to your work injury questions. Having handled thousands of injured maritime worker claims, our legal professionals will be able to give you the highest quality service. Call today at 904.396.1734.