Houston is one of the central hubs for the oil industry. There are 175,000 Houston workers in the oil industry, along with thousands of contractors.
Almost half of the nation’s total oil industry pay goes to Houston oil workers. These oil workers labor in hazardous conditions, with many working offshore, providing fuel for the U.S. economy.
While these jobs may pay well, the oil industry workers face danger each day. Working in the oil industry ranks as one of the most dangerous careers, and offshore workers face hazards from rough seas to rig explosions.
The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement reports offshore accident statistics, noting six fatalities and 160 injuries in 2020. The year before saw more than 200 offshore injuries. When a worker is injured or killed in an offshore accident, they deserve compensation.
At Armstrong Lee & Baker LLP, our Houston Jones Act attorneys fight to get injured oil workers fair compensation. We go up against the toughest oil companies and demand payment for the harm the workers and their families have suffered.
Since we are in Houston, we understand how the oil industry works and what it takes to win a case. We are ready to stand by your side in this fight.
Fortunately, federal law is on your side too. Here, we will explain one important law—the Jones Act—that provides injured oil workers a potential path for maximum compensation.
What Is the Jones Act?
The Jones Act is a federal law that protects injured maritime workers by allowing them to file a personal injury lawsuit. The law was enacted as part of The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, which also promotes the economic interests of the U.S. shipping industry.
However, if you were injured in a maritime accident, you are primarily concerned with the protection the Jones Act provides for offshore workers, so that will be the focus here.
Who Qualifies for the Jones Act?
To file a claim under the Jones Act, you must qualify as a seaman. A seaman is someone who spends significant time working on a vessel in navigation on navigable waters.
The Jones Act does not clarify how much time you must spend working on a vessel. However, courts have determined that spending at least 30% of your work hours on the vessel meets the significant time threshold. The 30% time threshold can be split among multiple vessels owned by your employer.
Working on a Vessel
You must be working on the vessel as an employee to be qualified under the Jones Act. Being classified as a “seaman” does not mean you have to be a sailor. Any job in service of a vessel can qualify. Passengers on a pleasure cruise, however, are not covered by the Jones Act. Additionally, if you are a contractor, you also may not qualify.
The vessel must be capable of navigating, which requires that it must:
- Be afloat and not in dry dock;
- Be a working commercial vessel;
- Be capable of moving; and
- Be on navigable waters, such as an ocean or river that traverses multiple states.
It is important to note that only certain vessels qualify for Jones Act claims. If you are working on a drilling platform that is anchored to the ocean floor, it does not meet the “afloat” criteria.
Therefore, you would not be able to file a Jones Act claim. Other vessels that are ineligible include boats in dry dock or ashore for repair and boats that have not yet been put in commercial use.
What Compensation Can You Recover?
A Jones Act lawsuit allows you to sue your employer for almost all the damages you suffered as a result of your accident. These damages include:
- Medical bills such as doctor visits, hospital stays, and physical therapy appointments;
- Lost wages, from the date of your accident to your expected future working years; and
- Pain and suffering, including mental anguish, insomnia, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment.
The Jones Act is such an important avenue for compensation because general maritime law only provides injured workers with “maintenance and cure,” which is a daily stipend and coverage for medical expenses.
The added potential for pain and suffering and lost wages compensation makes the Jones Act a much more desirable path to relief.
What Do You Have to Prove?
To file a Jones Act negligence claim, you have to prove that your employer’s action or inaction contributed to your injury. A negligence claim requires the following elements:
Duty of Care
Your employer has a duty of care to provide a safe work environment. Under the Jones Act, employers must provide a reasonably safe work environment and use ordinary care under the circumstances to keep the vessel in a reasonably safe condition.
Breach of Duty
Your employer must have breached this duty of care in some way. Perhaps they did not provide their employees with proper training or they failed to have the equipment inspected on a regular basis.
There are many ways in which your employer could have breached their duty of care. If you are unsure of whether your employer was negligent, speak to an experienced Jones Act attorneys who can review the facts of your case and evaluate the evidence.
Breach Caused Injury
Your employer’s breach of duty must have caused your injury. If you already had a broken leg and then slipped on a wet surface, you cannot claim damages for your broken leg. Injuries caused by the accident can be claimed as damages.
Note that your employer’s negligence does not have to be the sole cause of your injury. Even if you were partially responsible for your injury, you can still sue your employer if their negligence contributed at all to your accident.
This is a very low burden of proof to meet, meaning it is usually fairly easy to prove that your employer was negligent in some way.
Injury Is Worth Damages
Your harm needs to be significant enough to make it worth filing a claim. If you have accrued significant medical bills, lost wages, or pain and suffering, you have enough damages for a personal injury claim.
What Should You Do After an Offshore Accident?
After you suffer an offshore accident, there are steps you should take to give yourself the best opportunity to recover maximum compensation. As soon as you are able after your accident, do the following:
- Report your accident to a supervisor;
- Seek immediate medical attention;
- Take photographs of the accident scene;
- Write down the names and contact information of witnesses; and
- Keep copies of all medical records and invoices.
Taking these actions after an accident can help preserve evidence that may be helpful to support your claim. Evidence vanishes quickly in offshore locations, so it is important to secure it soon after your accident.
Seeking medical treatment immediately is crucial to your physical health as well as your potential for compensation. If you delay a medical evaluation, the insurance company could claim that you were injured at a later date.
Do You Need a Jones Act Attorney in Houston?
If you were injured in an oil accident, you need to contact an attorney as soon as possible. Oil companies are powerful and hire their own attorneys. You do not want to face these adversaries alone. Their objective is to pay you the lowest amount possible because they want to preserve company profits.
A personal injury attorney’s job is to advocate for your maximum compensation. Hiring an attorney puts you on equal ground in negotiations because an experienced maritime law attorney understands the oil industry’s tactics and how to counter them.
Although negotiations are an important part of the claim process, an attorney also completes other essential tasks.
A maritime law firm will file the necessary paperwork, investigate your accident, gather evidence, interview witnesses, and put together a compensation request that accounts for all the harm you suffered.
Contact Our Experienced Jones Act Lawyers in Houston
When you need representation for a Jones Act claim, the attorneys at Armstrong Lee & Baker LLP offer both experience in maritime law and a passionate representation of their clients. Our Jones Act lawyers work tirelessly to advocate for the rights of injured workers.
We know that oil workers play a vital role in the Houston economy, and companies should take care of them when they are hurt on the job. Unfortunately, oil companies all too often turn their backs on their injured workers.
Our Jones Act attorneys will help make sure that the oil company understands the extent of your harm, and we will fight to get you all the money you deserve. We have helped injured maritime workers recover significant damages, and we may be able to help you too.
Contact us for a free consultation to share your accident experience and learn your legal options. If you hire us, you owe us nothing until we win your case. Get started today on your Jones Act claim by contacting our knowledgeable attorneys.