What is the Jones Act and How Does it Affect Oil Rig Workers?
The Jones Act, as part of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, allows maritime workers on sea vessels to seek compensation for injuries suffered during the course of their duties while at sea. Whether or not an oil rig worker is covered under the Jones Act depends on the type of rig they work on.
If the employee works on a "jack-up" rig or another mobile vessel, the Jones Act will cover offshore injuries in most cases, as the rig is technically classified as a sea-going vessel. To be considered a "seaman" under the Jones Act, an employee must spend over 30% of their work time in the service of a vessel on navigable waters.
Almost every rig worker falls under this category, as they often work long hours, and any work on the rig would be considered in the service of a vessel.
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4 Types of Compensation Under the Jones Act
Compensation under the Jones Act of 2022 is covered in 3 separate types of damages: loss of earnings, medical expenses, and pain and suffering. Punitive damages may also apply in certain cases, depending upon the circumstances of your particular lawsuit.
1. Loss of Earnings
Lost earnings include not only present earnings but also the loss of future earning capacity, including the potential for pay raises and occupational advancements. It also includes coverage for employee benefits including vacation time, 401K, and/or pensions.
2. Medical Expenses
Injured maritime workers are covered under the Jones Act not only for present medical costs, but anticipated future medical expenses such as exams, prescription medications, X-rays, travel expenses to doctor’s appointments, physical therapy, rehabilitation, specialized equipment, surgery, counseling, and mental health treatment.
3. Pain and Suffering
Under the Jones Act, Pain and suffering are considered both physical pain and mental anguish. For example, statistics show that most maritime workers who are forced to undergo an amputation are likely to experience extreme mental anguish, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
4. Punitive Damages
In certain cases, oil rig workers may be eligible for punitive damages in addition to the aforementioned types of compensation under the Jones Act.
The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals specified that punitive damages are allowed under the act if employers are found to willfully and recklessly break their duty in providing a seaworthy vessel to employees. It must be proven that there was a knowing and reckless disregard for worker safety in order to recover punitive damages.
When Does the Jones Act Not Cover Oil and Gas Workers?
The legal protections provided by the Jones Act do not apply to employees who work onshore or on fixed oil platforms.
It is important to understand that vessels covered by the Jones Act must be navigable, and cannot be permanently docked or moored. A fixed oil platform is connected to the ocean floor permanently. If this applies to where you work most of the time, you may not meet the criteria for the Jones Act.
Just because you do not qualify as a Jones Act seaman does not mean you do not have legal rights, though. You may still have protection and be able to seek compensation under other relevant laws.
Other Relevant Laws
In addition to the Jones Act, a number of other regulations may assist injured oil rig workers in obtaining compensation for their injuries, including (but not limited to):
- Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) - Pays families and dependents of maritime and oil rig employees whose death was caused by employer negligence.
- Oil Pollution Act (OPA) - Compensates workers for damages related to an oil spill, refinery incident, or other similar oil-related accident.
- Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation (LHWCA) - Defends maritime workers in non-seaman professions, including oil rig employees.
- Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) - Extends longshore and harbor worker safeguards to workers on oil rigs that search for and extract oil resources on the outer continental shelf.
How Do I Know if I Need a Maritime Lawyer?
If you've been injured in an oil rig accident, your employer and its insurance company will always attempt to minimize your claim and pay as little as possible for your injuries. A knowledgeable and experienced maritime attorney will fight for the full payments to which you are due, including money for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Keeping this in mind, your maritime lawyer will likely advise you to reject the initial settlement offer from an employer. In most cases, such an offer will be far less than what you are legally entitled to for your injuries.
Your Jones Act attorney will also inform you that you are far less likely to get adequate compensation when you rely on workers comp or the Longshore Act alone. The Jones Act provides the best protections, hands down.
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