The sea can be an unforgiving place to work, especially in the often harsh conditions on the Alaska coast. Workers in the maritime sector, whether this is the oil industry, fishing, maritime transportation or leisure industries are exposed to potential injuries that might occur nowhere else.
Most Alaskan workers are covered by workers’ compensation insurance
Most employees in Alaska, with relatively few exceptions, are covered by their employers’ workers’ compensation insurance, which is specifically designed to protect employees if they are injured or become sick while at work. A workers’ compensation claim can be filed by a sick or injured worker if there is a workplace incident which results in their injury or sickness. Compensation is limited to financial or “economic” damages only. This means payment for medical expenses, which may be restricted to treatment at an employer determined facility and a portion of any lost earnings due to enforced absence from work. This is capped at around two thirds of the earnings that would have been obtained.
Workers’ compensation payments provide protection for the employer as well. The injured or sick worker is not able to take out a private personal injury claim against his or her employer if covered by workers’ comp. insurance. A personal injury claim could potentially be far more expensive for the employer as it may include non economic damages such as “pain and suffering” or punitive damages if the employer was found to be negligent. The other difference between workers’ compensation and personal injury claims is that a worker does not necessarily have to prove that he or she was not to blame for the injury or illness. In other words, as long as there was no deliberate intention to induce illness or injury, the worker may still be eligible for workers comp. even if they were responsible for their own injury.
How the Jones Act applies to semen but not other workers
Seamen in Alaska are not covered by workers’ compensation laws as such but are protected by a federal law called the Jones Act. The Jones Act is not that well known but if you are a maritime worker or an employer who employs seamen it is certainly worth you knowing something about the Act.
The Jones Act was brought in originally to control coastal maritime trade and ensure that U.S. flagged vessels had sole rights to that trade. At the same time, it was recognized that seamen who worked on all manners of U.S. owned vessels plying the coast had very little recourse to compensation if injured while working aboard. The Jones Act provides legal recourse for injured seamen or their families in the event of a death to recover damages from their employer. Basically, the Act ensures that seamen enjoy the same compensation rights as federal workers, even though they work for a private employer.
The difference between the conditions attached to compensation for injured seamen and employees in other occupations is that semen (or their families) can file a personal injury lawsuit against their employer as long as they can prove that their employer was negligent in some way and that this negligence caused their injury or illness.
There are some interesting peculiarities concerning liability under the Jones Act as it applies to compensation. A master of a vessel may be considered liable for injuries to any of the crew not just when they are at work on the vessel, but when they are living aboard the vessel as well. It must be noted that many coastal vessels require employees to remain aboard for days or even weeks at a time. Even if a crew member arrives drunk back at a boat or ship and is injured aboard the vessel, then the master may still be held responsible.
Compensation may be paid for past and future medical expenses, lost earnings, pain and suffering, loss of support for a spouse and family as well as any medical expenses before death and funeral expenses if a wrongful death of a seaman is involved.
If you are a maritime worker and you have reason to believe that you have been injured r become sick as a result of your employer’s negligence while working aboard a vessel then you should contact the law office of Dattan Scott Dattan here in Anchorage. Federal law will determine whether you are eligible for compensation. A personal injury attorney may help you to cope with the financial and psychological costs of a maritime injury. You will need to file a claim within three years of any such injury. Contact one of our attorneys by phone at (907) 276-8008.