The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, better known as the Jones Act, is a federal law that regulates maritime commerce in U.S. waters. It defines the rights of sailors who serve aboard U.S. commercial vessels.
The Jones Act allows qualified injured seamen to recover compensation for damages arising from on-the-job accidents caused by an act of negligence by filing a lawsuit against their employer. However, it only gives them a limited time frame in which to report their injuries and file their claims.
Damages in maritime accidents often include current and anticipated medical expenses, lost wages, loss of future earnings, pain and suffering, and more. If the seaman died as a result of their injuries, their surviving family members may be able to file a wrongful death to recover compensation for funeral expenses, the deceased’s medical expenses, loss of support, and more.
How long it may take to resolve Jones Act lawsuits to obtain this compensation depends on many factors.
Who Can File a Jones Act Lawsuit?
Not all maritime workers are protected under the Jones Act. Only those who meet the definition of being a “seaman” qualify for Jones Act protections. In order to be considered a seaman under the Jones Act, you must be able to show that you spend at least 30 percent of your work time contributing to the mission and purpose of a “vessel in navigation.” A vessel in navigation is one that is afloat, operational, and capable of moving on navigable waters.
Cruise ships, commercial fishing boats, tugboats, tankers, barges, trawlers, and container ships all qualify as vessels in navigation. The U.S. Supreme Court recently expanded the definition of a vessel in navigation to include certain offshore structures such as oil rigs, drilling platforms, man-made islands, and dredges
What is the Statute of Limitations for Filing a Jones Act Claim?
The statute of limitations for filing a Jones Act claim is three years from the date the injury took place or three years from the date the seaman discovered they were injured.
It’s important to remember that the three years only applies to filing a claim, not reporting your injuries. You only have seven days from the date of the accident or the date you discovered you were injured in which to report your injuries to your employer. You should report any injury to your employers as soon as possible after the accident; the longer you wait the more likely an employer will use the delay to question the seriousness of your injuries.
What To Expect From the Jones Act Claim Process
Each maritime accident case is unique. How long it takes to resolve Jones Act lawsuits is dependent on many factors. However, the process of obtaining your compensation is very predictable. Here’s a short breakdown of what to expect as your Jones Act claim moves forward:
Claim Is Filed in Court
The process begins with the plaintiff (you) filing a claim in court that gives notice to the at-fault parties (the defendant) that you intend to take legal action against them to recover compensation for your damages.
Defendants Respond to Complaint
Once the defendant has been served with your claim, they’ll have 30 to 60 days in which to provide the court, the plaintiff, or the plaintiff’s lawyer with an answer to the complaint.
Submit Request for Medical & Wage Records
Your legal team will request copies of all of your medical records, IRS records, and Social Security records to help establish your claim. This process can take up to two months, depending on the records that are needed.
The next step is discovery. This is the phase where each party exchanges information about the witnesses and evidence they’ll present at trial.
Conference with Judge
The judge will schedule a preliminary conference to deal with procedural or administrative matters associated with the case, such as establishing a time frame for concluding pretrial activities and setting a trial date.
Depositions are testimony collected outside of court, but still under oath. A deposition allows attorneys in the case to gather information and facts from those involved in the case. The deposition phase usually begins 4-6 months after you file your claim.
Reports from Experts
The evidence gathered during the discovery and deposition phases will be turned over to medical and occupation experts. They’ll use this information to establish and determine the full extent of your accident-related damages.
Negotiating a Settlement
Before the trial is scheduled to start, both sides will meet to negotiate a settlement. Most Jones Act lawsuits are settled out of court. If your lawyer is unable to negotiate a satisfactory settlement, the next step is going to court.
Going to Trial
Jones Act lawsuits rarely make it to the trial phase. Insurance companies can’t predict the actions of a jury; their award may be several times what a plaintiff was asking for during the negotiation phase, so it often isn’t worth the risk. However, it does happen. Depending on the court, a trial could add months to the time it takes to settle your claim.
Factors That Can Affect How Long it Will Take to Settle Your Jones Act Case
A maritime injury claim can take anywhere from several months to well over a year to be resolved. How long Jones Act lawsuits take depends on many factors, including:
- Factual disputes
- The severity of your injuries
- How many parties are liable
- Court delays
- Plaintiff and defendant delays (such as the plaintiff having to undergo and recover from surgery)
- Whether the case goes to trial
Speak to A Jones Act Attorney About Your Maritime Accident
The New Orleans Jones Act attorneys at Lambert Zainey Smith & Soso have over 40 years of experience handling maritime claims in Louisiana and all along the Gulf Coast. We’ve recovered over $1 billion for victims injured in a wide range of maritime accidents. If you’ve been injured on the job, let our team of maritime lawyers help you get the compensation you deserve.
You can contact the law offices of LZSS through our website or call us at 800-521-1750 to schedule a free initial consultation with an experienced maritime attorney.