Consulting with experienced maritime attorneys can make all the difference in pursuing a successful Jones Act case. Lawyers who typically specialize in personal injury or workers’ compensation shouldn’t hesitate to reach out for assistance when they take on clients who were injured while working on U.S. waterways.

It may be tempting to do it alone, but maritime and admiralty law is different than other areas of tort law. Without the help of an experienced Jones Act attorney, lawyers can easily seek insufficient damages, or even lose cases entirely. Here’s what attorneys who specialize in workers’ compensation and personal injury should know when they begin their search for a Jones Act consultant:

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    1. Jones Act cases have the potential to recover much greater damages than those resolved under workers’ compensation.
      Unlike workers’ compensation cases, Jones Act cases can be filed in state or federal courts and are guaranteed a right to a jury trial. Damages are much broader under the Jones Act than virtually every state workers’ compensation laws; they include provisions for maintenance and cure, lost wages past and future, medical costs, pain and suffering, and more.

    In order to recover damages, though, Jones Act lawyers have to prove the negligence of the employer. Proving negligence in a maritime case requires experienced lawyers who understand the duties, safety rules, and realities of life working on the river.

    2. It takes experience to ensure that an injured worker qualifies as a “seaman” under the Jones Act.

    The text of this 1920 law makes it clear that its protections only cover “seamen,” but it does not provide a detailed definition of this term. That leaves attorneys to make their case in front of a jury or a trial judge based largely on precedent.

    “The duration of a worker’s connection to a vessel and the nature of the worker’s activities, taken together, determine whether he is a seaman, because the ultimate inquiry is whether the worker is part of the vessel’s crew or simply a land-based employee who happens to be working on the vessel at a given time,” states the Supreme Court decision in Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis 515 U.S. 347 (1995).

    There is a lot of leeway there. Experience is crucial, as the employer’s legal team will look to exploit any possible refutation of an injured worker’s legal status as a seaman. This brings us to our next point.

    3. Employers will be working hard to refute claims of negligence, and their lawyers can be extremely effective.

    Ship-owners hire maritime lawyers who specialize in preventing injured workers from attaining fair compensation. Even attorneys who are deeply experienced in other areas of tort law need to counter the defense’s expertise with specialists of their own.

    4. Claims under the Jones Act are subject to a statute of limitations.

    Injured workers only have three years from the date of the injury to file a lawsuit. Clients and their lawyers should keep that in mind and contact a Jones Act attorney well in advance of the deadline.

    Personal injury lawyers who find themselves out of their comfort zones in cases involving injured workers on rivers, lakes, and seas can call the maritime lawyers of Wilkins Schneller at 314-588-8000 to start the conversation.