Workers compensation for maritime employees

Insurance policies purchased by employers cover a majority of their employees in the United States. These policies offer financial coverage if an illness or an injury occurs on the job. This type of insurance coverage referred to as workers’ compensation insurance, is mandated by state and federal laws. Some employees do not enjoy this special protection; in the marine industry, maritime workers compensation differs in the persons covered and the nature of compensation in case of sickness or injury.

Employee Protections in the Maritime Environment

Commercial marine operators need special consideration when seeking insurance coverage for their workers. Some may need to purchase conventional workers’ compensation insurance, while employees working near the water will require special coverage.

Maritime worker’s compensation coverage is not universal; workers do not have the same coverage. Insurance coverage depends on the nature of the work of the employee.

There are two categories of maritime workers. These are:

  • Seamen; are employees who work aboard sea vessels in the occupation or trade of sailing, handling, and navigating vessels. The name seaman also applies to officers, captains, and crew members.
  • Anyone else who works near or on the sea; This category of employees may include stevedores, longshoremen, those engaged in servicing or fueling vessels, and other types of commercial marine employees.

When a seaman falls sick or gets injured at work, he or she is not protected by the same workers’ compensation benefits controlled by federal or state law. Instead, special laws have been put in place, availing three potential coverage avenues for these employees. The avenues are:

  • Suing the vessels’ owner on which illness or injury happened
  • Suing employers under the Jones Act.
  • Getting compensation in the form of coverage from employers, irrespective of who caused the illness or injury.

The Jones Act: Protection for Seamen

In the United States, seamen have specific rights as per the Jones act. There is a section of the Marine Act that gives some marine employees the right to seek compensation from vessel crew members, vessel captains, or sea vessel owners if the employee is injured. In navigation or on navigable waters, a sea vessel must be afloat at the time of the injury to qualify for protection under Jones Act.

Seamen covered under this Act must be active in the running of the sea vessel and spend at least 30 percent of their time working as workers in the vessel.

On the other hand, the victim can press charges against an employer, a boating insurance company, or a third party. To triumph, the aggrieved person has to show that the negligence of another person occasioned their injuries. In most states, to show negligence, the aggrieved person must prove that:

  • The accused act of negligence caused the accident 
  • The charged owed the aggrieved duty of care
  • The plaintiff got Injured as a result
  • The accused breached the duty of care

Negligence may include:

  • Failure to enforce established safety guidelines
  • Failure to provide adequate medical assistance
  • Operating vessels in unsafe waters
  • Supplying defective equipment to seamen

Protection for other marine employees 

There is a form of workers’ compensation for maritime workers for them. The Longshore Act provides workers compensation for other workers who do not fall under the category of seamen. The Act has undergone various amendments to give maritime employers and their workers more protection. Employees covered under this Act include:

  • Ship repairers
  • Longshoremen
  • Shipbreakers
  • Dockworkers
  • Shipbuilders

Benefits to injured employees are based on lost wages and the victim’s post-injury earning capacity. Mostly, the benefit is about 66 percent of the wage of the victim. Moreover, the Act provides cover for partial or permanent disability. Employers who do not provide this coverage risks imprisonment or substantial penalties in case of injury claims.

All in all, employers should always ensure that their employees are covered, irrespective of operating environment or job description.

About Reva B. Williams