Arbitration of Jones Act Injury Claims

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Arbitration is a legal proceeding where a private, hired lawyer decides your case instead of a jury or a judge. Many Jones Act employers want offshore maritime injury claims to go to arbitration because it can potentially limit a seaman’s recovery. Federal maritime injury law makes it illegal to require arbitration of a Jones Act seaman’s employment agreement. Nevertheless, many maritime employers have attempted to dodge the law by requiring employees to sign an arbitration agreement after the suffer an injury at sea.

Arbitration May Limit an Injured Seamans Compensation

After an injury, a seaman must rely on the good faith of his or her employer to pay for maintenance and cure, which is living expenses and medical care. Maintenance is often a very small amount of money paid each day following an injury until a seaman reaches “maximum cure.” It is never enough for a Jones Act employee and his family to live off of. Maritime employers know this, and will sometimes offer to pay an employee wage advances, or a percentage of their salary on top of maintenance, if the employee will sign an arbitration agreement. This is almost always a bad deal for a Jones Act employee because it limits the right to a jury trial.

Employers Use Tactics to Force an Arbitration Agreement

Some maritime employers use strong arm tactics to force a maritime employee to agree to arbitrate their Jones Act claim. There are documented cases, some of which I have seen personally as the employee’s lawyer, where a maritime employer will tell an injured employee that they will not receive any medical care or living expenses unless they sign an arbitration agreement. These employers know that a Jones Act claim can be valuable and expensive, and they use unethical and improper tactics to force an employee to give up their right to a jury trial. In one case I handled, the employee had emergency surgery after an injury and returned hoping to recuperate. As soon as he got home, the risk manager adjuster from his employer called him and told him he would lose all medical benefits if he refused to sign the arbitration agreement. He signed the agreement before he hired me, and by then it was too late. He has lost his right to a jury trial.

A Jury Trial is Almost Always Best for the Injured Seaman

The right to a jury trial is valuable. The brave men and women who founded our country fought for the right for disputes to be decided by juries. Juries have a way of finding the truth and being fair. You are better off having your maritime lawsuit decided by a jury than by a private lawyer paid for by your employer.

Talk to a Maritime Lawyer Before Signing an Arbitration Agreement

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true. If your Jones Act employer tells you they will pay extra money after a maritime personal injury if you will sign an arbitration agreement, it often is a trick and a trap. You should never sign an agreement, particularly an arbitration agreement, without consulting a maritime injury lawyer. A lawyer with experience handling Jones Act maritime injuries will know the rules about arbitration and can advise you on how to say No to a post injury arbitration agreement.

More info: Talk to Doyle Raizner LLP

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