Is It True Seamen Aren’t Eligible For Workers’ Compensation?

It's a common belief that all employees in every industry are eligible for workers' compensation benefits. Unfortunately, that isn't true. If you are a seaman and are injured while on a seafaring vessel, you are not covered by workers' compensation insurance. Here's more information about this issue and the recourse available to you if you are hurt on a maritime job.

Alternative Workers' Comp Options

Workers' compensation is a state-based program, meaning eligibility, policies, procedures, and other associated issues are all handled based on the laws in each individual state. While the federal government does have a workers' comp program, it is only available to federal employees. Seamen are not eligible for either of these programs because they are generally not federal employees and the legal reach of states typically doesn't extend to navigable waters.

However, that doesn't mean sailors are completely without recourse if they are injured while at sea. There are actually three ways seamen can collect compensation for damages and losses if they are hurt while on their boating jobs.

  • They can sue under the Jones Act, which is a specific law that allows for personal injury lawsuits by sailors against employers for workplace injuries.
  • An injured sailor can sue using an aspect of maritime law called Maintenance and Cure. This law functions similarly to workers' compensation in that the employer is required to provide room and board for the employee while he or she is recovering from the injury as well as pay certain expenses such as medical care, mortgage or rent, and utilities.
  • The person can also sue based on the seaworthiness of the vessel. If the vessel was not a safe place to work, the injured sailor can collect compensation for injuries by proving this aspect and that the unsafe conditions caused or contributed to the injury. Plaintiffs don't have to show the employers' negligence caused the injury, which is required under the Jones Act.

Eligibility Requirements

Only people who are classified as seamen are eligible to use the previous laws to sue for injuries while at sea. This definition is based on the Jones Act, which states a person must spend a minimum of 30 percent of their time aboard a seafaring vessel. The vehicle must also meet the minimum definition for "vessel in navigation", which is defined as any boat, ship, etc that floats, is capable of moving, is in operation, and on navigable waters.

Unfortunately, failure to meet these minimum requirements may mean you'll be unable to successfully sue for damages. It's essential that you consult with a workers compensation lawyer about your case to protect your rights and determine the best way to proceed to obtain the compensation you're due.