The maritime law confers some basic rights upon seamen (click on the bold to go to the detailed discussion):
you're entitled to this no matter who was at fault in causing your injuries
you're also entitled to this no matter who was at fault
Other Damages Recoverable through Settlement or Lawsuit
you have to prove fault to recover this.
If you have been hurt and would like to discuss any of these issues, contact an attorney now. There will be no charge and you can get a good idea how these concepts will apply to your case. Make sure the attorney knows something about maritime law and do not continue the conversation if you start getting pressure to come in and sign something. This is not a car wreck and a car wreck lawyer may not know the "ins and outs" off the top of his/her head. If you can't find an attorney you're comfortable with, call or email me and I'll discuss the case with you and give you my ideas on how to proceed.
Here are the details on your rights:
The most basic of your rights is the right to medical care. Under the general maritime law (which applies to Jones Act Seamen), the employer is obligated to pay for reasonable medical care related to all medical conditions which manifest while you are in service to the vessel until the time your reach maximum medical cure. What this is supposed to mean is that you can go to a doctor of your choice and your employer must pay for it. Even this right has been eroded through the past few years, however.
Until a few years ago, if an employer wrongfully refused to pay for your medical care, you could sue them for punitive damages. This made the employers much more reasonable in their relations with their injured employees. Your Courts of Appeal (the Fifth Circuit which includes several of the Gulf states) have now ruled that punitive damages cannot be recovered no matter how outrageous your employer's actions. Since then, employers can do what they want, and they do. If you don't do what they say and see who they say when they say, they can simply stop paying for your care. Sure you can sue them for the costs of your care, but all you can recover is the cost of care and, in some circumstances, attorneys' fees.
This has changed the medical care situation in Jones Act cases to much more like the HMO model which has so outraged the American people. Now let me state clearly that not all Jones Act employers are heartless and focused solely on profits to the exclusion of your health. There are some employers who sincerely want you to get better and want to work with you to that end. There are many, however, who simply want you to go away. They think you aren't hurt, it's all in your head, you are a fraud and a malingerer, and if you are hurt, it's your own fault anyway. Therefore why should you cost them money? If you have one of these employers, keep reading . . .
If you have been hurt and would like to discuss any of these issues, contact an attorney now. There will be no charge and you can get a good idea how these concepts will apply to your case.
Most sophisticated employers now have their approved doctors to whom they say you must go. Usually, the employer will maintain a dialog with your doctor and will know as much as or more than you do about your medical situation. Many times, the doctor will have to talk to the employer about his plans to get approval for payment. (So much for the doctor/patient privilege, huh?) Many employers will even assign a "rehab nurse" to your case to go with you to your appointments and actually sit in on the doctor's examinations. You now have an advocate for your employer sitting in on your privileged communications with your doctor and, in most cases, leaving the room with the doctor for private conferences out of your presence. Think about that for a moment. We have evolved to a situation where the employer's advocate is given more private information and confidentiality regarding your medical care than you, the patient, are. (Who do you think will be at the top of your employer's witness list if your case goes to trial? Don't be surprised if your former best friend, the "rehab nurse," does not remember all your conversations with the doctor the same way you do.)
So what can you do? You have to make a decision on who is going to be in charge of your care, and I do not want to imply that it is an easy decision. If you believe you will be able to get well and go back to your old job, then you will want to try, as much as possible, to cooperate with your employer and go back to work. That is always your best option if it is available to you, and most minor injuries work out this way. If, however, your injury is potentially disabling to you (meaning you won't be able to go back to that job or any other job which will pay you the same wage), you should be more careful about directing your own medical care. Know, however, that anything you do short of complete compliance with your employer's instructions risks getting you cut off from all benefits. Your only choice then is to handle the matter yourself or hire an attorney. You should not be quick to "sue the bastards" because this is a permanent decision which cannot be undone. Click here for some things to think about before hiring an attorney or filing a lawsuit.
Make sure the attorney knows something about maritime law and do not continue the conversation if you start getting pressure to come in and sign something.
If you are prepared to risk losing your employer's voluntary cure, then here are some steps you can take to ensure you are calling the shots on your care. First, do not let anyone attend your appointments with you except members of your own family. Politely suggest to your doctor and to the employer's rehab nurse that you would like to maintain your privacy and you would appreciate being allowed to maintain the doctor/patient privilege. They may be persistent, but you can too. Second, you are entitled to see a doctor of your choice. Talk to friends, family, or your long-time family physician and get a referral to a specialist. Do not sign any blanket waivers of the doctor/patient privilege and let your doctor know that you would rather that he not talk to anyone but you about your care. The employer is entitled to know what the doctor finds and plans, but this should be done in writing, either in the form of letters or office notes. You should receive copies of all communications between the doctors and your employer. Third, if you are not satisfied with the advice you are getting from a doctor, get a second opinion. Medicine is an art, and two doctors can see the same situation differently. Most employers will welcome a second opinion and, if they don't, you should reconsider whether their goals are the same as yours.
The employer's obligation to provide cure runs for as long as your doctors are treating you to make you better, not just to relieve pain. Once the doctors say you have healed to the point that all they can to is try to deal with the pain, you have reached "maximum medical cure" and the employer can stop all benefits.
In addition to cure, you are entitled to receive "maintenance" during the time you are under medical care (before you reach maximum maximum medical cure). The amount of maintenance is generally between $20-$30 dollars per day. The theory is that the employer must pay you what it would cost for you to live on land in the same manner you lived offshore on the vessel. In other words, the cost of a bunk and three squares per day. Realistically, you can't eat at Dennys for $20 per day, but the courts have said that $20-$30 per day is enough.
Most employers will pay you the "maintenance" plus some additional money which they will consider an "advance" against what they might owe you in the future (if you happen to hire a lawyer and sue them). Most employers will have you sign a document which acknowledges that the advance portion of the payment is just that, an advance, and they are entitled to get that part back if you go back to work or if they settle with you. There is nothing wrong with signing a document like this, but if you are not perfectly clear that it is nothing more than an acknowledgement of an advance, have it reviewed by an attorney. You can be sure that it was written by the company's lawyer, and you don't want to waive anything at this point.
If you hire an attorney and file suit, you still are entitled to receive maintenance. Most employers will stop any advances at that point. Some employers will even cut off your maintenance, but they should not do so. If the employer wrongfully cuts off the maintenance, your only remedy is to sue them and try to recover attorneys' fees. If you incur hardships because the employer cuts off maintenance, you can sometimes recover for those hardships also.
Other Damages Recoverable Through Settlement or Lawsuit
In addition to maintenance and cure, your employer may owe you damages for the things you have lost because of your injuires. To recover damages in addition to maintenance and cure, you must prove fault on the fault of the employer or unseaworthiness of the vessel. If you can prove liability, you are entitled to recover damages designed to make you whole. Click here for information about the damages you can recover.