Written by attorney Timothy Justin Young

Maritime Negligence: How Comparative Fault Affects Jones Act Claims

Jones Act claims are fault-based claims in which the employee can sue an employer for damages if the maritime employer acted negligently. One of the defenses the employer’s counsel will usually use is comparative fault, in which they claim that the worker was partly at fault for the accident.

Comparative Fault and Jones Act Claims

Comparative fault, also referred to as comparative negligence, is integral to Jones Act claims. Under the comparative negligence rule, if a worker was partly responsible for the accident, settlement will be reduced by his or her degree of fault. In other words, the more the employer can convince the courts that the employee contributed to the injury, the less the employer will have to pay.

What if the worker was just “following orders?"

If an employee was injured while following an order from his superior, he cannot be held comparatively negligent in a Jones Act claim, even if he was aware of the danger.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals made this decision in Simeonoff v. F/V Saga. An employee, Simeonoff, responded to an engineer’s call for help while fixing a crab pot launcher and Simenoff’s foot was crushed when the launcher fell on him.

According to Discovery Communications website, “Crab fishing involves dropping 800-pound steel cages, called crab pots, into the sea where crab live. Fishermen cover the traps with herring meat as bait, and the crabs climb up a ramp to get the food, then fall into the bottom of the pot where they can't escape. Crab pots and crab pot launchers are common sources of injuries for fishermen."

Simeonoff knew of the dangers and responded to the call for assistance anyway. Because he was responding to a superior’s urgent call for help, the court concluded that Simeonoff was not at fault for the incident.

The Importance of Proving Negligence

Proving negligence is key to any Jones Act claim because it determines the final amount of compensation a worker will receive. It’s vitally important for workers to effectively prove the employer’s fault and minimize their own in order to secure better settlements.

For example, when all is said and done, if a worker is 50 percent at fault for a maritime accident, the settlement will be reduced by 50 percent; a $200,000 settlement will become $100,000. This means fewer benefits and less compensation for the worker and his or her family in the time that they need it most.

In order to prove the maritime employer’s negligence, workers should enlist in the help of Jones Act claim attorney who will be able to:

  • compile evidence;
  • examine witness reports;
  • craft a case that demonstrates the employer’s fault;
  • carefully account for all of the worker’s damages, including medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering;
  • argue that the worker was not responsible or had only minimal liability; and
  • fight for the maximum compensation possible for the worker.

Consulting a Maritime Attorney

Jones Act cases are a unique area of the law that necessitates the assistance of a legal professional in order to successfully navigate. If you or your loved one was injured on the job in maritime accident, contact a maritime attorney as soon as possible to discuss negligence laws and how they apply to admiralty and Jones Act cases.

Our attorneys at The Young Firm have a thorough understanding of the complexities of Jones Act claims and admiralty law, and we invite you to contact us for a free consultation today at (866) 938-6113.

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