If you work in a maritime environment including offshore or on a vessel, you may fall under a federal statute known as the Jones Act. Under the Jones Act you are allowed to file a tort-like lawsuit against your employer if you ever suffer a work-related injury. The Jones Act allows an injured seaman to collect several different types of damages.
Before addressing the specific categories of damages which are allowed under the Jones Act, it is first important to understand two basic facts about the Jones Act. First, the Jones Act is a fault-based statute which means that in order to collect any type of damage against your employer, you must prove that your employer was at fault in causing or contributing to your injury or that the vessel was unseaworthy which caused or contributed to your injury. Under the Jones Act you do not collect any damages unless there was some degree of fault on the part of your employer in any form or fashion in causing your injury. Also, the damages that you can collect under the Jones Act are separate and apart from the damages you can collect under general maritime law for "maintenance and cure". Even if your employer was not at fault in causing your injury, you are still entitled to maintenance and cure benefits under general maritime law.
Pain and suffering is the first category of damages which may be collected by an injured seaman against his employer. There is no scale or chart which indicates the value of types of injuries. Instead, pain and suffering awards are generally determined by the trier of fact based upon the type of injury and the amount of suffering as may be determined by the trier of fact whether it is a judge or a jury. However, it is important to remember that pain and suffering awards are usually reviewed by the courts of appeal and the award can be lowered or reversed entirely if the court of appeal believes the award is too excessive.
Past and future lost wages can also be collected under the Jones Act by the injured employee. In order to prove past and future loss of wages, the injured seaman must present evidence concerning the amount of his earnings at the time of his injury as compared with the amount of earnings that he will be capable of in the future due to his injury. In other words, in order to collect any type of lost wages the employee must show that he is actually losing wages due to his injury. Lost wages cannot be "speculative" or based upon mere "hope" that the employee would have made higher wages in the future had it not been for his injury. Most courts will generally look to the amount the employee was actually earning at the time of the injury and compare that to the amount that the employee will most likely earn in the future due to his injury.
An injured employee can also collect his past and future medical expenses under the Jones Act. In order to collect any type of medical expenses under the Jones Act the employee must simply prove that the medical expenses are "reasonable and necessary" and that "more likely than not" the employee has or will incur such expenses. Usually medical expenses must be proven through expert medical testimony. Courts will not allow an injured seaman to collect medical expenses which are merely speculative and are not based upon medical testimony.
The last category of damages allowed under the Jones Act relate to loss of fringe benefits and other employment-related benefits. If the injured seaman will lose fringe benefits including the value of his 401(k), health benefits, disability benefits or other fringe benefits which were previously provided by his Jones Act employer, then the Jones Act allows the injured seaman to seek money for such damages. The Jones Act even allows the injured seaman to collect money for the value of the meals which he enjoyed while he was working offshore!
The Jones Act is a very special federal statute since it allows injured seamen to file suit for all of the above damages. Normally work-related injuries fall under very restrictive "compensation statues" which prevent the employee from collecting pain and suffering, loss of fringe benefits and the full value of his loss of wages. The Jones Act does not work in such a fashion and for this reason most injured seamen receive much more recovery under the Jones Act than they would under a workers' compensation statute.