Thursday, January 4, 2007

Jones Act and LHWCA - A Quick Comparison

The Jones Act affords a plaintiff at least four important advantages that a plaintiff whose only remedy is the LHWCA does not:
1. The Jones Act provides a remedy to seamen for injuries incurred in the course of their employment aboard a "vessel" due to the negligence of their employers. The burden for proving negligence is extremely relaxed and has been described as "featherweight."
2. Jones Act seaman status also triggers the availability of the general maritime law remedies of "unseaworthiness" for which liability is strict and non-delegable.
3. Although not specifically tied to the Jones Act per se, a Jones Act seaman is eligible for "maintenance and cure" in an obligatory amount which is not fixed and one which can, in theory, continue for the lifetime of the injured seaman.
4. Claims falling within the Jones Act afford a plaintiff the right to a jury trial, which in turn opens the door to potentially large jury verdicts for damages.
On the other hand, the LHWCA is a quid pro quo workers compensation statute. That is, the LHWCA exchanges no-fault liability for limited compensation benefits and immunity from tort liability. Furthermore, unlike the Jones Act, the LHWCA is a scheme managed and arbitered by the government. Workers seeking compensation under the LHWCA must file a claim with an Office of Workers' Compensation Programs district director. If the district director cannot resolve the claim informally, it is referred to an administrative law judge authorized to issue a compensation order. The judge's decision is reviewable by the Benefits Review Board, whose members are appointed by the Secretary of Labor. The Board's decision is, in turn, appealable to a U.S. court of appeals, at the instance of "any person adversely affected or aggrieved by" the Board's order. That said, the LHWCA excludes employees of political subdivisions, masters or members of the crew of a vessel, and certain other classes of employees defined by Congress in the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act amendment of 1984.

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