Houston Jones Act Attorney
Call One of the Best Jones Act Injury Lawyers in Houston
Maritime law is VERY specialized and has evolved over the last 200 years in the United States. Only lawyers trained and experienced in that area are familiar with the rules and laws that apply. Joe Stephens is double-board certified in two areas which demonstrates his knowledge and competence to try cases involving this field. He has extensive experience handling maritime cases. He has recovered millions of dollars in trials and settlements involving offshore claims. Each case rises and falls on its on merits, and your recovery, if any, must stand on its own merits. But Joe Stephens has the competency to let you know what your case may be worth.
An Offshore Lawyer is someone who practices an area of law generally known as ‘maritime law’. Maritime law applies to cases involving injuries or accidents on the waterways of the United States, in the Gulf of Mexico, or at sea. Typically these cases involve several separate claims including ones under a statute known as the Jones Act, claims based on ‘general maritime law’, claims based on the Death on the High Seas Act, and claims based on the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.
An experienced and board certified lawyer like Houston Jones Act Lawyer Joe Stephens has years of experience in determining when the Jones Act applies to help you win your case.
Helping Those Injured Offshore Understand the Jones Act
What is the Jones Act?
The Jones Act is a federal statute found at 46 United States Code 688 that was passed by the United States Congress that allows an injured employee to sue their employer for ALL the damages that the employee has suffered as a result of an injury. If the Jones Act applies to you, you will not be limited to collecting workers compensation benefits which consist of only medical payments and a small portion of your wages for a fixed period of time. Instead, if the Jones Act applies and your injury was caused by the negligence of your employer or a co-employee, you may then collect ALL of the damages that you have suffered from your employer.
These damages include money for pain and suffering, money for past and future medical expenses from a doctor that you choose, money for past and future loss of wages and fringe benefits that you may have suffered due to your injury, and any other money damages that you have suffered. Our Maritime lawyers can explain these damages to you and help you understand the Jones Act. It may give you extensive rights since you were working at a dangerous job on the water.
In order for the Jones Act to apply to you, you must qualify as a ‘seaman’ which means several things. To be a seaman, and therefore have the Jones Act apply in your case, you must satisfy a these 3 conditions:
The ‘more or less permanent’ assignment has been interpreted to generally mean that you have spent at least 30% of your time on ‘vessels’. So even if 65% to 70% of your time was spent off of the water on land or elsewhere, you may still satisfy the ‘permanent assignment’ requirement. Even if your accident occurred on land, you may still file a claim under the jones act if you were assigned to a vessel but only working on land temporarily.
What is a Vessel under the Jones Act?
The definition of what qualifies as a ‘vessel’ under the Jones Act is very broad and is usually subject to debate. Traditional boats such as tug boats, crew boats and supply boats are definitely vessels under the Jones Act. So are jack-up and semi-submersible drilling rigs as well as drill ships. Some special purpose vessels also may qualify depending upon the circumstances. A crane barge, for example, can be a vessel as long as it was not used primarily as a ‘fixed work platform’ and it moved about sufficiently.
The ‘in navigation’ requirement is also broadly applied. The vessel does not need to actually be moving or underway at the time of your accident. ‘In navigation’ simply means that the vessel has not been removed to dry dock or otherwise totally disabled from operating. Typically as long as it is still capable of moving about with a few modifications (such as lifting the anchors or in the case of a jack-up, jacking down the rig) then the vessel will still be considered ‘in navigation’.
U.S. Supreme Court Confirms Vessel Definition
On February 22nd, 2005, the United States Supreme Court held in Stewart v. Dutra that a special purpose dredge was a vessel for purposes of the Jones Act. The Stewart decision clarifies and assists seaman in proving one important requirement to qualify under the Jones Act, i.e. that they be working aboard a vessel. Even if the structure that you were working on was temporarily moored or anchored, if it is ‘practically capable’ of navigation, you may have been working on a vessel for purposes of the Jones Act.
Is Your Injury Covered by The Longshore and Harbor Workers Act?
What is The Longshore and Harbor Workers Act?
The Longshore Act is a Federally created statute found at 33 United States Code 901 that generally applies to dock workers in the Gulf of Mexico. The Longshore Act can be thought of as a Federal workers compensation statute. It allows the injured employee to collect both compensation and medical benefits from his employer when he is injured. The Act is not fault based, and just like a maintenance and cure claim for a seaman, a Longshoreman will generally collect benefits for any injury that simply happens at work, regardless of how it happened.
The amount of compensation benefits to which you are entitled will depend upon the type of injury you suffered. Some injuries are called ‘scheduled’ injuries, such as injuries to a finger, hand, foot, wrist, eye or arm. Other injuries, such as injuries to a neck, back or shoulder are ‘nonscheduled’ injuries. The compensation due for a scheduled injury will depend upon the percentage disability rating that your doctor assigns to you when he is done treating you.
For example, a 25% impairment rating to a finger would receive more compensation than a 15 or 20% impairment rating. Under a scheduled injury it does not matter whether or not you can return to your old job after the injury–you simply receive the scheduled payment based on the disability rating and nothing more. For a nonscheduled injury you will be entitled to lifelong benefits, but the company will receive a credit for any money that they prove you can go out and earn. In nonscheduled injury cases, the ability of the employee to return to work is very important, as is his education and the area where he lives. The amount that the employee can earn after the accident will determine the compensation to which he is ultimately entitled.
Mr. Stephens is very familiar with the Longshore Act and can discuss your rights with you under the Act. It is very important to remember that you can also file suit against any third party that may be responsible for your accident–and you can seek full damages including pain and suffering and full lost wages from this party. Many platform workers are injured while offloading boats and even though they may be limited to collecting benefits under the Longshore Act from their employers, they can file separate suits against the boat owner if the captain or deckhands were at fault in causing the accident. This happens often when a boat captain may not keep the boat steady or when he allows offloading during rough sea conditions.
Was a Loved One Lost or Killed While at Sea?
The Death on the High Seas Act
The Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) is a Federal law that may apply when an individual dies while on the ‘high seas’. Generally the high seas are defined as at least 3 miles off the coastline, but in some cases it can be extended further based on the original wording of the statute. If the death occurs inside of 3 miles (or perhaps further if the dividing line can be extended) then DOHSA does not apply to the death. Unfortunately when DOHSA does apply a surviving spouse or child’s recovery for their deceased loved one can be greatly limited. DOHSA is typically used by the defendant company to limit recovery of damages. It is very important to speak to an experienced Houston Offshore Lawyer to determine if DOHSA must apply, and even if so, what amounts are still recoverable. We can assist you in answering these questions.
General Maritime Law
The ‘general maritime law’ is a body of law that applies to accidents and injuries that occur on the water. It is actually derived from old cases and the rules they made, some of them hundreds of years old, and some even dating back to England. General maritime law generally applies a ‘reasonable’ person standard, and comparative fault applies to the parties involved. This means that if you have an accident on the water, and general maritime law applies, the legal test will be whether or each of the parties acted ‘reasonable’ under the circumstances. If the person that caused your accident did not act as a reasonable person would have, then they will be liable for any damages that you suffered. However, if you also failed to act as a reasonable person would have, or if you contributed to your own accident, then your recovery will be reduced by your percentage of fault in contributing to your own accident.
For example, if a fellow boater fails to yield to you when you have the right away, then he should be a fault. But if you fail to sound your horn to warn him, which may have prevented the accident, then you may also be assigned fault which would reduce your recovery. The same set of rules apply if you are hurt offloading a third party company’s boat or injured while getting on and off a crew boat operated by someone other than your employer. In such cases, the company may be at fault, but the jury will also get to decide if your recovery should be reduced due to any fault on your part. Our maritime attorneys and lawyers have worked with experts in the offshore and maritime areas that can help explain to a jury the responsibilities that each party had at the time of your accident.
Why Hire an Experienced Maritime Lawyer in Houston?
The Stephens Law Firm has been successfully handling Jones Act and maritime claims for years. Because many oil production and offshore companies have offices in Houston, Beaumont, and Galveston, Texas our office is conveniently located close to the district where your claim may need to be filed. Many offshore workers leave out of the Port of Houston, or Galveston to go to the rigs or to board their work boats. Their claims can be filed in Texas and many must be filed in Texas. Injuries occurring off the coast of Texas may have to file in Texas. Our attorneys are able to associate lawyers in other states such as Mississippi, Louisiana, and Florida which allows us to handle cases in those courts.
Being located in the Greater Houston area provides us with access to many local experts who have worked for years in the oil and gas and offshore industries. These include marine safety experts, former boat captains and pilots, former offshore crane operators, rigging experts and experts in other specialized areas that are common in the south Texas area. We have handled maritime and Jones Act cases in Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Florida, and chances are if your injury occurred in the Gulf of Mexico, we may be able to help you. Simply phone to discuss your situation.