Maritime Injury: The Jones Act and How it Applies to Recovering Damages (Part 2)

This post is a follow up regarding the worker’s compensation claims in a maritime case previously discussed in “Maritime Injury: The Jones Act.” The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals also addressed the complicated worker’s compensation aspects of this case in addition to the rejection of the use of The Jones Act in the injured party’s attempt to avoid an employer’s contributory negligence claim. In order to fully understand the worker’s compensation aspects of this case, it is important to consider some additional facts of the District Court’s decision.

As a reminder, a crane mechanic employed by a third party was injured on an oil rig due to the partial negligence of himself and the owners of the rig. He fell through an uncovered ladder from the top portion of the crane cab and was seriously injured when he landed on the deck below. After his injury, the employee was no longer able to work as a crane mechanic but remained an employee for his previous company.

While the injured man was unable to work as a crane mechanic, his employer gave him a clerical position and paid him significantly more than someone in a clerical position would earn. His employer continued to pay him the wage he earned as a crane mechanic and although he only worked approximately twenty hours a week, his employer paid him for fifty-five hours per week. The lower court determined that this dramatic increase in wages for the work done could be considered an advance of worker’s compensation benefits. They based this determination on the original intention of the employer. The Court of Appeals affirmed this decision by stating that the lower court had ample evidence to make this conclusion.

The lower court also found that both parties were partially liable for the employee’s accident. Therefore, the damages awarded to the employee in this case were reduced by the difference in what he should have gotten paid in the clerical position and what he was actually paid. That amount was then awarded to the employer’s insurance company to compensate for worker’s compensation that will be paid to the employee. That meant that the owner of the rig had to pay the insurance company for future worker’s compensation payments. The payment was subtracted from the award that the employee received from the owner of the rig.

The employee argued that the damages awarded to the insurance company should at least be reduced by the amount of negligence attributed to the owner of the rig instead of entirely taken from his earned wages. However, the court did not agree with this argument because the negligence was committed by the owner of the rig, not the employer. The employer pays the worker’s compensation benefits; therefore, it would be inappropriate to reduce a payment from one party based on a third party’s error.

The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act provides occupational injury coverage and disease prevention for workers who may acquire these conditions while working on the waters of the United States. The Act covers approximately 500,000 people within the United States. Coverage is either paid directly by the employer or by an insurance company that the employer acquires. There are also special circumstances in which a fund that this Act has developed will pay workers for their injuries. In this case, the employer had an insurance company who would have to pay the injured worker.

In this case, the court determined that the increased wages amounted to payment of worker’s compensation under this act. Therefore, the court concluded that neither the employer nor the insurance company should have to pay the employee compensation twice by having a separate worker’s compensation payment. This case illustrates that workers’ compensation cases can be extremely complicated because they involve so many parties; this case involved the employee, owner of the rig, the employer, and the employer’s insurance company even though there were only actually two parties in this case. The aid of competent attorneys is vital in these types of cases. The attorneys at The Berniard Law Firm can help with many workers’ compensation cases.

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