Below are some of the most common points of concern for vessel owners and other maritime businesses defending a Jones Act claim. It is critical for defendants to carefully investigate the incident in question, discuss defense options with an attorney, and swiftly devise a smart strategy for handling the complaint. For legal counsel and representation for a Jones Act, premises liability, other maritime litigation matter, contact the Moeller Firm in New Orleans at 504-702-6774.
How can a maritime company reduce its risk of Jones Act claims?
Reducing the risk of Jones Act lawsuits goes beyond maintaining a safe vessel and imposing safety standards. A good risk management plan should address a gamut of issues. Owners should research insurance coverage options, keep thorough and up-to-date employee personnel files, evaluate exposure to general legal and financial risks, ensure employees are sufficiently trained on safety protocols, and develop a plan for monitoring any future changes.
They should also arm themselves with a trustworthy legal advisor who can step in, assist with investigations, and develop creative strategies to reduce liability, identify illegitimate claims, and litigate, if necessary.
What must a claimant prove to prevail in a Jones Act claim?
The Jones Act is an employee-friendly legislation. The burden of proof Jones Act claimants have is slight compared to standard negligence cases. An employee need only prove that:
- He meets the definition of a seamen;
- The defendant was negligent (however slight); and
- The defendant’s negligence caused the claimant’s injuries.
A plaintiff’s featherweight burden of proof translates into a defendant’s heavy burden to defend.
Is comparative negligence a viable defense against Jones Act claims?
Comparative negligence is not a complete bar to an employee’s recovery, but maritime owners may use this doctrine to mitigate damages in a Jones Act claim. If the owner can show that the employee partially contributed to his injuries, then the liability will be apportioned accordingly.
In Edmonds v. Compagnie Generale Transatlantiqu, the Supreme Court noted, “In many cases, of course, the shipowner whose act or omission contributed only a very small percentage of the total negligence will avoid liability on the ground of lack of causation.”
It is important for vessel owners to thoroughly review all the facts of the case and conduct investigations before agreeing to terms. For instance, employers should discern whether the employee’s actions or inaction contributed or wholly caused the injuries. An employee can be negligent under various circumstances, from mindless mistakes and violation of orders, to intoxication and assault. Proving employee negligence is pivotal to mitigating damages. Similarly, if a negligent third party was involved, the owner may relieve itself of a degree of liability.
What other defenses can a company use to reduce or divert liability?
Employers should consider all aspects of a Jones Act suit when building a defense. Owners and their counsel should determine if there are any contractual violations or technicalities that might invalidate the claim, such as whether the claimant fits the legal definition of a seaman.
Analyzing the cause of the accident is critical as well, given that a Jones Act claim hinges on negligence and causation. Maritime workers may attempt to wrongfully apportion blame to the employer. If the employee breached his duty and caused the injury and there was no negligence on the employer’s part, the employer may use contributory negligence as a defense.
Owners should likewise investigate the veracity of the claimant’s damages. It is not uncommon for employees to falsify injuries, file Jones Act claims for personal injuries they sustained off the job or for pre-existing injuries, and to exaggerate injuries to inflate their damages. If defendants suspect fraud, they should relay their concerns to their attorney to take the appropriate action.
There are various ways to approach a Jones Act claim; much depends on the circumstance of the case. Read more about Jones Act defenses or contact the Moeller Firm now to discuss your needs.