- Do I have to pay you any money now to start my case?
No. We are so confident in our ability to obtain a good result for you that we do not charge any money upfront. We only collect our fees and costs when we win your case.
- Will the company cutoff my medical treatment and my maintenance money if I hire a lawyer and file a lawsuit?
No. On the contrary, when a crew member is represented by an attorney the company is far more careful about the crew member’s medical treatment and maintenance money.
- What happens to my retirement plan if I hire a lawyer and file a lawsuit?
Nothing. If you have the right to receive money from a retirement plan, that money has to be paid to you separate and in addition to any money compensation that you will receive for your injuries. Our policy is always to collect the retirement plan money for the crew member before we close his injury case.
- Do I have to pay you any money to help me collect my retirement plan money?
No. We always help our crew member clients to collect their retirement plan money, and we do not charge them anything for this service. It is a courtesy for our clients.
- How much money can I receive for my injuries?
This depends on how serious and disabling your injuries are. There are other factors that will affect the value of your case such as surgeries, your ability to return to work, the length of time you have been working for the company, the circumstances of your injuries or your sickness, etc.
- Do I have to be physically present in the United States to file a lawsuit against the company?
No. You can be in your country of origin or in any other country in the world and we can file and handle the lawsuit for you in the United States.
- Do I have to get off the ship under medical care to file a lawsuit against the company?
No. As long as you were injured or became sick aboard the ship or working for the ship, you can file a lawsuit against the company even if you did not get off the ship on medical.
- Do I have to get off the ship in an American port to file a lawsuit against the company?
No. It does not matter where you get off the ship. You can file a lawsuit against the company, even if you get off the ship in another country.
- Can I file a lawsuit in the United States, even though I am not an American citizen?
Yes. All crew members and seamen, irrespective of nationality, can file a lawsuit against the company in the United States if they are injured or become sick on the ship, or while in the service of the ship.
- Do I have to obtain a tourist (B1-B2) visa to file a lawsuit against the company?
No. You do not need a tourist (B1-B2) visa to file a lawsuit. In most cases, we can obtain a good offer for you without you having to travel to the United States. If you have to travel to the United States for the lawsuit, we will help you obtain the visa.
- Do I have to travel to the United States for my lawsuit?
In most cases, we can obtain a good offer for you without you having to travel to the United States. If you need to come, we will help you obtain a tourist visa (B1-B2) if you do not have one.
A crew member has the right to receive money compensation from the cruise line if he is injured on the cruise ship because of dangerous or defective conditions aboard the ship. The most common dangerous conditions aboard cruise ships are:
- An inadequate crew. Cruise ships are often undermanned. When this occurs, crew members have to work too many hours and do the job of two or three crew members. If a crew member is injured under these circumstances, he has the right to receive money compensation from the cruise line.
- Failure to enforce common sense guidelines for the lifting, carrying and pushing of heavy items. Because of the constant work pressure on the cruise ships, the cruise ship companies do not enforce common sense rules for the lifting, carrying, and pushing of heavy items. If a crew member is injured because he was forced to lift, carry, or push heavy items, he has the right to receive money compensation from the cruise line.
- Inadequate Cleaning and Maintenance. Frequently, the stairs and floors of the ships are wet, greasy, dirty and slippery. If a crew member is injured because the floor or the stairs are unsafe, he has the right to receive money compensation from the cruise line.
- Inadequate Training and Insufficient Hours of Rest. Frequently, crew members do not receive adequate training for the tasks they have to perform, or they are not given enough time to rest between work days. If a crew member is injured because he is not properly trained or because he is exhausted after working too many hours, he has the right to receive money compensation from the cruise line.
- Insufficient or Defective Equipment. Frequently, the cruise lines fail to maintain the equipment and tools necessary to do the job. They also fail to buy new equipment when the current equipment is broken or defective. If a crew member is injured because he did not have the proper tools to do his job or the equipment he was using was broken or defective, he has the right to receive money compensation from the cruise line.
Our advice to any crew member that is injured aboard a cruise ship is to consult with a maritime lawyer immediately because his injuries were probably caused by dangerous or defective conditions aboard the ship.
An injured maritime worker seeking compensation normally has two courses of action:
- If he meets the legal definition of a seaman or crew member, he can sue his employer for negligence under the Jones Act.
- The injured seaman can also file a claim alleging that the vessel was unseaworthy and that an unsafe work environment led to his injury.
Under the Jones Act and the unseaworthiness laws, the seaman or crew member can recover damages for pain and suffering, medical expenses, lost wages and loss of earning capacity. In addition to these damages, the seaman or crew member could seek punitive damages.
Unlike the two courses of action described above, awards of punitive damages are not meant to compensate the plaintiff, but rather to punish defendants and reform them. Ship owners are required to pay the medical and living expenses of injured seamen and crew members until they reach maximum medical improvement. This law is known as "maintenance and cure".
"Punitive damages" describes a special type of civil damages. Such damages are awarded to a seaman or crew member when a court seeks to punish the defendant for gross negligence or reckless behavior.
In a Jones Act claim or an unseaworthiness claim, the dollar amount of an award is based on the damages suffered by the seaman or crew member. These damages cover pain and suffering, medical expenses, lost wages and loss of earning capacity. However, punitive damages are not meant to compensate the seaman but to inflict financial pain on the defendant.
When a court wants to punish a defendant or send a clear message to the industry as a whole, it will award the plaintiff a large sum based on how much the defendant is worth and how badly the defendant has behaved during the case.
For example, if it comes to light that the defendant deliberately failed to pay for an injured seaman’s medical and living expenses or its failure to provide adequate and immediate medical care substantially worsened the seaman’s medical condition, the court may award substantial punitive damages to the plaintiff to punish the defendant.
When it comes to maintenance and cure claims, the recent United States Supreme Court ruling in the case of Atlantic Sounding v. Townsend clears the way for seamen and crew members to pursue punitive damages in their cases. Punitive damages may be awarded if the plaintiff proves that the defendant did not meet his obligations to provide and pay reasonable medical care and living expenses or terminated maintenance and cure payments prematurely or without justification.
The Jones Act and the unseaworthiness laws give injured seamen the right to sue their employers for negligence and dangerous conditions aboard the ships, but whether the plaintiff can seek punitive damages at the same time depends on the situation. It is more common to award punitive damages in maintenance and cure claims. It is important to emphasize that punitive damages are not meant to compensate the injured party but rather to inflict financial punishment on those defendants who demonstrate gross negligence or recklessly dodge their responsibilities.
Unlike land workers, maritime workers cannot claim worker’s compensation benefits. Instead, an injured maritime worker or crew member must file a claim for damages under the Jones Act. The Jones Act gives a maritime worker, more specifically a "seaman" or crew member, the right to claim damages against his employer in the event of injury caused by the employer’s negligence or a ship owner’s failure to ensure the seaworthiness of a vessel.
Under the Jones Act, the plaintiff can claim loss of income, medical expenses, and money compensation due to an injury suffered aboard a vessel in the course of performing his duties or while in the service of the ship. However, the Jones Act only protects maritime workers that meet the legal definition of "seaman" or crew member.
The Jones Act does not define the status of a seaman or crew member. Rather, case law has sought to clarify the legal definition of a seaman or crew member. In two cases, Harbor Tug and Barge Company v. Papai (1997) and in Chandris v. Latsis (1995), The U.S. Supreme Court stated that to be classified as a seaman or crew member and be covered by the Jones Act, the plaintiff must meet two essential requirements:
- His "duties must contribute to the function of the vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission."
- He “must have a connection to a vessel in navigation (or to an identifiable group of such vessels) that is substantial in terms of both its duration and its nature."
The first requirement is fairly self-explanatory.
Every vessel that takes to the water does so with a mission, whether recreational, scientific, or commercial. The mission might be to transport passengers from one port to another or it may be to transport cargo. Every seaman constantly aboard the vessel contributes to the fulfillment of the vessel’s mission. That is, everyone working aboard a vessel is contributing in some way to a vessel’s mission or they would not be aboard. The cook, the waiter, the cleaner, the navigator, the ship’s doctor, the engineer are all contributing in their own way to the fulfillment of the vessel’s mission.
It is with the second requirement that things start looking a little tricky, and this is why it is important that in the event of an injury that you contact a maritime lawyer. This is because while you might meet the first requirement, you may not necessarily meet the second requirement, and if you do not, you may not qualify to file a claim under the Jones Act.
The second requirement for defining a seaman or crew member has two parts: the plaintiff must work on a "vessel in navigation" and his contribution or work is "substantial in terms of both its duration and its nature".
To qualify as a seaman or crew member, a maritime worker must work most of his time on a vessel that is in navigation. And it is the "in navigation" bit that is important. For a vessel to meet this definition it must meet the following criteria:
- The vessel must operate on navigable waters, which are waters that the vessel can travel across to reach the United States or another state within the Union. Navigable waters could be an ocean, or a large river, or an inland lake.
- The vessel must be capable of moving under its own power.
- The vessel must not be permanently anchored to the sea floor.
This strict definition excludes oil rigs. It also excludes vessels sitting in ship breaking yards. While an oil rig appears to float, it can only move if it is towed. For most of the time, an oil rig is anchored to the sea floor and so does not meet the definition of a vessel in navigation.
When it comes to assessing the worker’s contribution to the operation of a particular vessel or a fleet of related vessels, a seaman or crew member is one who contributes at least 30 percent of his time aboard in the fulfillment of the vessel’s mission.
Consider this example: an administrative clerk who normally works in an office on land but occasionally catches rides on ships to and from ports suffers an injury while aboard. Is he entitled to file a Jones Act claim?
Well, it depends.
If he performs no work aboard the ship that contributes to the operation of the vessel, then no, he does not qualify as a seaman or crew member under the Jones Act. If this administrative clerk spends 40 percent of his time aboard a ship performing duties that contributed to the operation of the vessel and the balance of his work time in an office on land, then he could potentially qualify as a seaman or crew member because more than 30 percent of his work time is given over to duties aboard a vessel in navigation.
A court would look at a plaintiff’s career with the shipping company. If he spent more than 30 percent of his career aboard a particular vessel or fleet of vessels, he could qualify as a seaman and seek damages under the Jones Act.
Because the Jones Act does not explicitly define what a seaman or crew member is under the law, case law has been used to give the term "seaman" a legal definition. Because the legal definition is not exactly cut and dry and due to the variety of vessels in operation today, as well as the slew of maritime-related jobs that exist, it is important that a maritime worker seek legal counsel in the event of an injury to determine if he qualifies as a seaman or crew member under the Jones Act before filing a claim.
The main reasons many injured crew members delay hiring a lawyer to help them obtain money compensation for their injuries are: Guilt, Hope, and Fear.
Many crew members blame themselves for their injuries. This is totally wrong. Most crew members get injured because of the abusive labor policies of the cruise lines. They are made to work too many hours. Repeatedly, they have to lift, pull, push, and carry heavy items. Fatigue causes accidents and injuries. They are not given adequate training and the proper tools they need to do their jobs. As the ships get bigger there are fewer crew members relative to passengers and they do not get the help they need. Crew members should not feel guilty because they are injured. It is not the crew members’ fault. The companies are responsible for their accidents and injuries. Therefore, an injured crew member should never delay hiring a maritime injury lawyer because he thinks his injuries are his fault.
Most crew members are hardworking people that sacrifice themselves for the benefit of their families. They leave their homes and families behind and work 7 days a week for periods of 6 months or longer. When they get injured, they want to return to work as soon as possible to continue providing a good life for their families. Sadly, the reality is quite different. The cruise lines rarely re-hire an injured crew member. They do not care that the crew member may have given them many years of hard work. They treat the crew member as a broken piece of machinery that needs to be replaced. Therefore, an injured crew member should never delay hiring a marine lawyer because he thinks the company is going to hire him back. It rarely happens.
Many injured crew members fear that if they hire a lawyer the cruise ship company will retaliate and cut off their maintenance money and their medical treatment. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It is just the opposite. When a crew member is represented by a marine lawyer the cruise ship companies are far more careful with his maintenance money and his medical treatment. For example, when a crew member is not represented by an attorney, the company is far more likely to try to pressure the crew member’s doctors to declare him to be at maximum medical improvement. This cuts off his medical treatment and his maintenance money. This rarely happens when a marine lawyer is involved. When there is no maritime injury lawyer involved, the companies will try to give the crew members quick and inferior medical care by sending them to receive medical care, not back to their countries, but to third countries where the medical care is cheap, inferior, and the doctors can be controlled by the company. Therefore, an injured crew member should never delay hiring a lawyer because he fears that the company will cut off his medical treatment and his maintenance money.
When should an injured crew member hire a lawyer? Yesterday.
Under American Maritime law, all vessel owners and operators have the legal obligation to provide free medical care for any crew member that is injured or becomes sick while he is working or is in the service of the ship. By the time of the case of Harder vs. Gordon in 1823 this was already well established law.
What does this mean for the crew member working on a cruise ship?
It means that if a crew member suffers an accident on a cruise ship and becomes injured or sick, the company he works for cannot evade the responsibility to provide him free medical care by the simple expedient of sending him home. The company cannot legally abandon an injured or sick crew member. The obligation to provide free medical care to an injured or sick crew member is so strong that it does not matter if the crew member was negligent or had any fault in causing his maritime accident or sickness. The only legal requirement to receive free medical care is that the crew member be working at the time of his medical problem or that he be in the service of the ship. For example, if a crew member is injured or becomes sick while on shore leave, he is still entitled to free medical care. If a crew member is traveling from his home to the ship or from the ship to his home, he is entitled to free medical care. American courts have been so generous in interpreting the crew member’s right to receive free medical care that in the famous case of Koistinen v. American Export Lines, a crew member was allowed to recover the medical expenses he incurred when he was injured by jumping out of the window of a house of prostitution.
What types of injuries or sickness entitle the crew member to receive free medical care?
The injury or sickness does not need to be related to the crew member’s work. It does not need to be caused by a maritime injury, or other cruise ship incidents. For example, a crew member is entitled to free medical care for a gall bladder attack, heart attack, diabetes, kidney stones, mental conditions, or any other medical treatment. Even when a pre-existing medical condition recurs, the crew member is still entitled to free medical care.
The crew member’s right to receive free medical care from the company is expected to work automatically without uncertainty or administrative delay or haggling.
American courts have imposed a duty on the employer under maritime law to pay for the crew member’s medical care irrespective of cause or fault and to resolve any doubts in favor of paying the crew member’s medical expenses.
Where am I entitled to receive my medical treatment?
The crew member is entitled to receive his emergency and non-emergency medical care aboard the ship, and at the nearest port depending upon of the severity of his injury or sickness. If the cargo or cruise ship injury or sickness renders the crew member unable to work, then, after the initial medical care is given, a doctor will determine if he is able to travel. If the crew member is able to travel, he will probably be sent home to receive his medical care. If the crew member is not able to travel, he will receive free medical care wherever he is at.
Can the company send me to a third country to receive my medical care?
In the last few years, many of the cruise companies have negotiated with doctors and hospitals in poor countries to obtain cheap and low quality medical care for their crew members. Instead of giving the medical care at the closest port or in the crew member’s home country, they try to send the crew member to a third country for his medical care. This is not an accepted practice and the crew member can and should refuse to go to a third country for medical care.
When does the company obligation to provide medical care end?
The company’s obligation to provide free medical care ends when the crew member has reached maximum medical improvement.
What does maximum medical improvement mean?
Maximum medical improvement means that, in the doctor’s opinion, any additional
medical treatment will not improve the crew member’s medical condition.
Who determines when the crew member has reached maximum medical improvement?
This is determined by the crew member’s doctor. When the crew member’s doctor writes a medical report saying that the crew member will not benefit from any additional medical care, the company’s obligation to provide it ends.
Can I challenge the doctor’s opinion that I have reached maximum medical improvement?
If the crew member disagrees with the doctor’s opinion that he has reached maximum medical improvement, he can challenge the doctor’s opinion. If the doctor who determined that the crew member has reached maximum medical improvement was selected by the company instead of the crew member, the crew member can get a different opinion from an equally qualified doctor and challenge the company doctor’s opinion. If the crew member selected his own doctor, challenging his opinion is far more difficult but it still can be accomplished in some cases.
What can I accomplish by challenging the company doctor’s opinion as to maximum medical improvement?
A successful challenge to the company doctor’s opinion will result in the company reopening the crew member’s medical file and giving him any additional treatment
that he may need such as additional medication, additional medical testing, additional therapy, additional surgery, etc.
Free confidential consultation by E-mail, phone, or in person.
ELIAS B. RUDNIKAS
Attorney at Law – Specialized in Maritime Law
2nd Floor Stella Maris Building
3670 N.W. 6th Street, Miami, Florida 33125
United States of America
Telephone: (305) 642-5000; Fax: (305) 541-4690.
What is maintenance?
All crew members and seamen have the right to receive a daily amount of money when they are unable to work because of an accident, an injury, or a sickness that occurred while working or in the service of the ship. Service of the ship includes maritime injury and sickness that occur while traveling to and from the ship, while on shore leave, and while working on land or on an island off the ship.
What does this mean for a crew member or seaman working on any ship?
It means that if a crew member is injured or becomes sick while working or in the service of the ship, the company has to pay him a daily amount of money until he reaches maximum medical improvement.
What type of injuries or sickness entitles the crew member or seaman to maintenance?
The injury or sickness does not have to be related to the crew member’s occupation on the ship. It does not need to be a result of a cruise ship injury or other maritime accident. For example, a crew member is entitled to maintenance while receiving medical treatment for a heart problem, a kidney problem, diabetes, a mental problem or any other medical condition.
Is a crew member or seaman entitled to maintenance while hospitalized or living in a company-paid hotel?
No. The purpose of maintenance is to pay for the crew member’s living expenses. If a crew member is hospitalized or living in a company-paid hotel and he is receiving room and board, this fulfills the company’s obligation to provide maintenance.
What determines how much maintenance money the crew member or seaman receives?
In most cases, the daily amount of money you will receive is determined by the employment contract that the crew member signs or by the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
For how long is the crew member or seaman entitled to receive maintenance?
For as long as he is receiving curative medical care. The company’s obligation to pay maintenance only ends when your doctor says that you can return to work on the vessel (fit-for-duty) or he says that you have reached maximum medical improvement.
What does maximum medical improvement mean?
Maximum medical improvement means that, in the doctor’s opinion, any additional medical treatment will not improve the crew member’s medical condition. Of course, with most serious injuries, a crew member may have reached maximum medical improvement but is not fit-for-duty.
A great example of a situation that requires maritime law expertise is the accident that occurred at the beginning of this year with the cruise ship Thomson Majesty, a story that seems to repeat itself.
While the ship was docked in Santa Cruz de La Palma, five crew members died and three others were injured when a lifeboat fell into the sea while performing a safety drill. The lifeboat fell from a height of 20 meters with eight crew members inside and was overturned on the sea surface. Five crew members drowned. Three of the dead were from Indonesia, one was from the Philippines and one was from Ghana, according to a report by the Guardia Civil (Spanish Police) in charge of the accident investigation.
The three crew members that were injured had managed to jump out of the boat before it hit the water. The two that had serious injuries and were hospitalized were from Greece. The third wounded crew member was a Filipino who had only minor injuries, was treated by an ambulance crew, and discharged.
The ship is the Thomson Majesty, of the British company Thomson Cruises, which is based in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. The 20-year-old ship is managed on Thomson’s behalf by a company called Louis Cruises, based in Cyprus. The cruise ship sails along the Canary and Madeira Islands which belong to Spain and Portugal respectively. It usually stops on Sundays in Santa Cruz de La Palma. The British company said “There was an incident involving the ship’s crew during a safety drill. Our thoughts are with the families of those involved“. The company also pointed out that it is "working closely with the ship owners and managers, Louis Cruises, to determine exactly what happened".
Meanwhile, the British Foreign Ministry said that it has been informed and is investigating the accident.
This unfortunate event happened during a simulation. What would have happened if the incident had taken place during a real emergency? Surely the deaths would have multiplied.
What are the legal issues that arise when analyzing this event?
It is common in cruise ship accidents to wonder about which laws are to be applied. In this case, three crew members from Indonesia, one from the Philippines, and one from Ghana, drowned and died. Two crew members from Greece were seriously injured. The owner of the ship is a British company, the administrator is a Cypriot company and the event occurred in Spain. This is characteristic of maritime law cases. Most lawyers without maritime expertise do not know how to obtain money compensation for the victims in this type of case. Therefore, it is essential to hire maritime law attorneys who are highly experienced and specialize in cases of this nature. For more information about maritime law issues, contact https://www.sealaw.com/contact-us.
Having to hire a lawyer to sort out a legal problem or to get the recourse you deserve can be a stressful and confusing experience. Fortunately, looking for the right lawyer can be much easier if you understand what your legal problem requires.
First and foremost, the lawyer you choose must have experience in the type of legal problem you are experiencing. In addition, he or she must be licensed to practice in the location where you can legally file a case (or where you must defend yourself). For example, if you are a seafarer who has a grievance against the cruise ship company you work for, and the company is headquartered in Miami, FL, then you must retain a maritime lawyer who is licensed to practice in the state of Florida.
Once you have decided that you need professional legal help, you should act quickly because legal cases must be filed within a designated time period. Upon hiring a lawyer, he should:
- Explore with you all your options.
- Be honest with you about your chances of winning your case.
- Provide you an estimate of how long it will take to resolve your case.
- Give you an estimate for the costs of his services.
- Explain the financial consequences of losing your case.
For many plaintiffs and defendants, lawyer fees can seem like an insurmountable obstacle when it comes to finding competent yet affordable legal representation. A solution to this problem is the “contingency fee”. This means that you only pay if you win your case. In this type of arrangement, the lawyers collect a percentage of the amount awarded.
Some law firms offer a flat or fixed fee option should your case be relatively simple and straightforward. In general, attorneys charge by the hour, which can vary based on the lawyer’s reputation and skill. Most lawyers will demand a “retainer” which is an advance payment against future charges. Any billable work that exceeds the retainer has to be paid by the client as well. Some countries have a statutory fee, which means that you must pay a set amount as specified by statute or by the regional court.
Sometimes, the lawyer with the right skill set to represent you will not work on contingency or fixed fee and only charges by the hour. Today, many skilled lawyers are willing to make other payment arrangements, such as monthly payments or other types of financing.
Hiring a lawyer is a very serious affair, but it does not have to be an intimidating or confusing process. No matter which lawyer you choose or what type of attorney you need, the best lawyer to hire is the one who listens, is honest and ethical about the progress of your case, and will give you the attention you deserve.
Fortunately for crew members that are injured or become sick aboard American cruise and cargo ships, the American maritime attorneys that handle these cases work on a percentage. This means that the crew member does not have to pay his lawyer any money until he receives money compensation for his injuries or sickness from the cruise or cargo company.
When a serious legal issue arises, the help of a qualified and experienced lawyer can certainly come in handy. Unfortunately, how to go about choosing the right kind of attorney can be a confusing and time consuming affair. However, the process of obtaining the right kind of legal help can be much easier as long as the seafarer understands what he or she should consider before looking for a lawyer.
In general, the kind of legal problem you have should determine the kind of lawyer you should hire. Sometimes, determining the true nature of your legal issue may require a lawyer to examine the circumstances of your case first. But for many seafarers, the issues can be fairly straightforward.
Consider an attorney’s specialization: Maritime Injury Lawyers are recommended for accidents at sea.
For seafarers, the help of an experienced maritime lawyer is always necessary when it comes to dealing with legal problems. The following legal issues that are best handled by a maritime lawyer are:
Claims for personal injuries and/or sickness
Claims against employers for unpaid wages, unpaid overtime, etc.
If you have been involved in a marine casualty or incident
Location: Consider the offending party’s country and state.
Besides the lawyer’s area of expertise, where the lawyer is licensed to practice is another important consideration. Crew members looking to file a claim against their employers must choose maritime attorneys who are licensed to practice where the employing company is headquartered.
If a personal injury or death claim must be filed, then the seafarer must look for a maritime personal injury attorney that is licensed to practice where the employing company is headquartered.
Seafarers that are looking to defend a criminal charge must retain a criminal attorney that is licensed in the country where the criminal complaint was filed.
Sometimes, a seafarer’s legal problem may not be so cut and dry. In the unfortunate situation where this is the case, it may be best for the seafarer to consult a maritime attorney for free legal advice. The law office of Elias B. Rudnikas offers free legal advice to all crew members, regardless of when, where or how the problem arose.