Nationwide Jones Act Injury Attorneys

Gordon, Elias & Seely, LLP

1811 Bering Drive
Suite 300

Houston, Texas 77057

Phone(713) 668-9999 or(800) 773-6770
Fax (713) 668-1980

Law Firm Overview

Gordon, Elias & Seely, L.L.P. is a law firm based along the Texas Gulf Coast representing offshore workers in maritime accident and Maritime Jones Act injury cases. Our goal is to help you recover the full compensation to which you and your family are entitled, when the negligence of an employer or

Areas of Law

Articles Published by Gordon, Elias & Seely, LLP

 Maritime Lawyer Launches Petition Drive to Save US Maritime Jobs

Maritime attorney, Steve Gordon, announces the launch of an online petition drive to help save jobs of U.S. mariners.

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 Jones Act Overview by State

The Jones Act is a Federal Law. That is, it is substantively the same in all fifty (50) states including D.C., Guam and all other United States Territories. However, the "Savings to Suitors" clause in the United States Constitution gives the absolute right to a seaman to file a suit in a state court regardless of diversity among the parties to the lawsuit. The practical effects of a state court filing are procedural rather than substantive.

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 Telling the Truth in Maritime Job Applications

This article summarizes the current law in the Maritime Admiralty Jones Act field pertaining to whether a seaman can be denied medical cure if he/she was not forthcoming in their job application or pre-employment physical with their prior injuries and/or illnesses and they get injured on the job.

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Videos Provided by Gordon, Elias & Seely, LLP

Jones Act VS Workers Compensation

Okay. I would like to talk for a moment about the Jones Act. The Jones Act is a special law enacted roughly in around 1920 under the Merchant Marine Act to protect injured seamen. It is one of the few areas of the law left in these United States that is actually favorable to the hurt person. As you know, there's been much tort reform by insurance companies and legislatures to try and say, “Oh, the lawsuit crisis...” and blah, blah, blah, and so – but Congress passed the Merchant Marine Act, and no state legislature can take those rights away from you; and Congress has failed – or not failed – but they have left alone the Jones Act. But I would like to talk about it for a moment. Let's just use – people confuse the Jones Act with workers comp. It's really quite different. Let's just use somebody working at Kroger. If somebody was working at Kroger, let's say mopping the floor, and they slipped and fell on the soap water that they put down, they would still receive medical benefits. They would still receive two-thirds of their average weekly wage in payments. Now, if you get hurt, let's say slip and fall as a seaman, you don't automatically have a claim. You're supposed to receive maintenance and cure, that is, you know, a daily wage and medical benefits; but that doesn't mean you get money because the Jones Act is a fault-based system. So if you, for instance, were mopping the deck or swabbing the deck and you slipped on your own soap water, you may be 100 percent negligent and so therefore you may not be successful in your Jones Act claim. However, if somebody tracked grease up from the engine room on the bottom of their shoes and then you slipped on that, then that's a fault of a crew member. But it is necessary in a Jones Act claim – and this is very important that you understand this – this is why a lawyer is essential – it's necessary for you to prove fault on the part of a co-employee or some piece of equipment; and we call that – I'll talk about that later. It's called unseaworthiness, when a piece of equipment actually causes your injury; and so it's very important that you understand that the Jones Act is a fault-based system as opposed to a workers comp system. Thanks.

Jones Act - The Claim's Process

I would like to talk for a little moment here about the claims process. When you get hurt, it's very important to report your injury and get – if you can, get a copy of your report and make sure and put in there, in the report, you know, where you hurt and how you got hurt and don't put it all on yourself, you know. Sometimes people say, “Well, I slipped on oil,” for instance, “on the deck.” Well, you know, somebody tracked that oil there. So it's not your fault that the oil is there. So make sure and be specific and think about it before you, you know, sign it. And try to get a copy of it. Next, once you report the injury, the captain probably reports the injury to the home office or the port agent or port captain. Once that happens, they alert the insurance company who hires a claims adjuster and they start to build a case against you. That's why it's important to get legal representation early, so that the law firm can get statements from coworkers to help build your case. Do not think that the company or the insurance company is on your side. They may say they are, but they're not. To them – I hate to say this, but you're really like a piece of meat. And there's some young buck standing in line to take your job. So, you know, this is your livelihood, it's your family's livelihood, so it's important to get legal representation early. Finally, who you choose to represent you is ultra important. They can, you know – they need to really do the work, not just blow smoke up your butt. And they need to get an investigator, they need to get the statements, perhaps they need to immediately get you medical care because you're not getting proper medical care, and they need to – well, in our opinion, they need to file the lawsuit and prosecute it because the insurance companies that cover the maritime employers do not get serious until basically you've twisted their arm, beat them up and dragged them to the courthouse; and at that time is when they begin to offer you the money that you're supposed to get.

Maritme Job Applications and the Jones Act

I would like to talk a moment about maritime job applications. Some people who have had prior injuries, that is maybe injured their back before, they're hesitant to put the truth on the application. And at Gordon & Elias, we believe it's important that when you fill out a job application, that you be honest because there is a potential that if you actually get hurt, that the employer can sort of weasel out of paying you maintenance and cure, which is medical benefits, if you're not fully honest or you don't fully disclose your prior injuries in your maritime job application; so it's important that you be honest. Now, the fact – let's say that you were asked about something and you didn't really put it down because let's say you had hurt your back before but it was 10 years ago and you didn't think about it, believe me that the employer's insurance company, when they find out about this, they're going to try and use that to deny your benefits. And so, it's not fatal; Gordon & Elias can get around it; but in – as a general rule, we advise our mariners to be honest on their job applications.

The Jones Act - Unseaworthiness

This topic, I would like to talk about, the Jones Act, but specifically what we call “unseaworthiness.”

Now, I don't mean to say “unseaworthy” means that the boat doesn't float.

You know, people say, “Well, she floated. She must be seaworthy.” Well, as we know, because I have a bit of a time on the water as well, “unseaworthiness” does not mean that the boat doesn't float. It means that a particular item wasn't fit for its intended purpose.

And let me give you an example. Let's say that you're throwing a line to the dock to tie off and the line snaps because it's rotted and let's say it comes back and hits somebody and injures them. That person would have a claim under the Jones Act but though he would also be able to assert negligence, he would clearly have what we call an unseaworthiness claim because a line should not be rotted and should not break.

So I want you to understand that under the Jones Act there are two sort of avenues that you can go down, one being negligence and one being unseaworthiness.

The Jones Act - Cabotage - What Is It & Why Is It Important?

I would like to talk a moment about the Jones Act. There are two sides to the Jones Act. One is the injury side, and the other is what we call the cabotage side; and the cabotage side is the area that protects you as seamen. It requires that vessels going from one US port to another US port use American-made vessels, US-flagged vessels, and that are manned with American seamen. Well, unfortunately, in the Gulf of Mexico, after Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, there was a need because there was not a lot of vessels and not a lot of seamen in that area, there was a need for foreign-flagged vessels to come in and do some work into the Gulf of Mexico. What happened was that need is no longer there. We now have the vessels and we have the US seamen. However, the United States Coast Guard has continued to grant exceptions to the Jones Act; and there are actually right now – with the economy as bad as it is – right now there are foreign-flagged vessels, foreign-owned and foreign-manned taking jobs away from US seamen; and this is ridiculous, totally ridiculous. And what we've done is we've set up a website for you to go to –it's really simple – and all you have to do is click on a link and you will be able to electronically send letters to your congressman, to President Barrack Obama, and even the Commandant of the United States Coast Guard, to stop this horrendous thing that's taking place. So we urge you to go to the website.

Jones Act - When To Make A Claim

This part of the tape is going to cover basically when to make a claim and when not to. When you – if you got hurt, you should report your injury and don't be afraid to say what it is that was wrong because they're going to – you know, if you make a claim, believe me – and if you say, “Well, I did it all,” they're going to try and shove that reported claim down your throat. So if there was oil on the deck, if a piece of equipment broke, if somebody didn't put a hatch cover on, if you didn't have good lighting, whatever – think about it and make sure and put that on there. Now, not putting it on there is not fatal to your claim. It just makes it a bit harder. So, you know, it's very important to report your claim plus on most injuries at sea the Coast Guard, United States Coast Guard, requires the reporting of a claim. And so I would like to talk about that. Once you make your claim, it's important for the employer to give you medical care. They have a duty to provide medical care to you; and some of it could be just something on board the vessel, maybe some Tylenol or whatever, but if it doesn't put the pain away, you need to make sure and tell your employer about this because they have a duty to get you to shore to get medical care. Now, I will tell you that they're – employers do not like you to make claims. I mean, let's face it, they don't like it, their insurance companies don't like it, they don't like it, but you have rights and those rights are your rights and they are given to you under the Jones Act which has been around for right now 89 years, almost 90 years; and then those rights were even dated back to the time of the vikings. So the mariner's rights have been protected for centuries and centuries. So I would ask you do not let your employer, anybody at your employer, the insurance adjuster who might come and talk to you, intimidate you. With the law firm – with a law firm on your side, then you've got a bat also; in other words, so it's not just you being intimidated. They can intimidate them. And the goal here is to make sure that you're fairly compensated. The law firm shouldn't make a mountain out of a mole hill, but they should make sure that – and figure out whether you're completely – you know, what's hurt on you. You know, you may not know it. You may have a herniated disk. If the law firm doesn't send you to a doctor that requests an MRI to find out, you may settle your claim without even knowing you have a herniated disk; and once you settle your claim, that's it. Now, so, that's the first factor. The second thing is you're probably thinking, you know, “How am I going to pay my bills if I can't work?” Now, at Gordon & Elias, they actually advance you money interest free on your claim. In other words, we know that your claim is going to take “X” amount of months. We know that you're – because you're going to be receiving medical care, more than likely the doctor is going to have you not fit for duty and so we know this and we sit down with you, we go over your bills and we make sure that you have the monthly amount of money to pay those bills. Don't think – oh, and by the way, there's no interest charged on that; and so, we pay interest, we borrow the money, but we don't pass that interest on to you. And that is a huge thing, and I really would ask you if you're contemplating hiring a law firm, to check around to see if that law firm is willing to stand behind you and loan you or advance you money interest free for your necessary bills. Finally, the process can take anywhere from about three months to about 18 months, and I think that it's important that you understand that the law firm of Gordon & Elias actually, you know, is like – becomes family to you. You call up and you speak to Jenny or you can call up and speak to me. You know, I try not to come into the office too much; but you can call me on my cell phone and you can call Todd on his cell phone. We really, really truly are like family.

Jones Act Maintenance & Cure

Under maritime law, when a person is hurt, they're entitled to receive maintenance and cure. Let's talk about maintenance. Maintenance is, I guess, amount of money per day for what it would cost for your room and board on board a vessel. So, for instance, if it's maybe $15 a day to compensate you for that room and board that you're missing because of your injury, that's what you get. Now, I have seen maintenance as low as $8 a day, and I've seen it as high as maybe $35 a day. Whatever it is, it's not your daily salary and it's insufficient to pay your bills; however, it is supposed to be paid. Now, unfortunately, employers, maritime employers, do not pay you maintenance when you're hurt, not all of them; and some of them need to have their arm twisted, so to speak, to do that. And maintenance is supposed to be paid while you're receiving medical treatment, that is while you're not fit for duty. And so then I want to move a little bit into, if you don't mind, into cure. Cure is basically medical care. And so you're supposed to also receive medical care paid for by your employer if you receive an injury on the job and you're a seaman. Obviously, companies don't do that all the time and that's one of the reasons people seek out and obtain lawyers. Now, cure is supposed to be until you reach what's called “MMI.” MMI is maximum medical improvement. So while you're getting your medical care, reaching your maximum medical rate of improvement, you're supposed to be receiving maintenance. Now, in a perfect world, that would be awesome if everything worked like that. I suspect if you are watching this video you probably had an injury and you may be experiencing perhaps some not quite full payment on either one of those issues. If you're getting fully paid, that's awesome and I think that that's a good thing. The problem is that sometimes the employer or the insurer for the employer wants to control the medical. That is, they will send you to their doctors; they don't tell you you have a choice to go to your own doctor. And, you know, I guess that raises another issue is, what's the difference between doctors? A doctor should be a doctor, should be a doctor. Well, if you're living in that world and you believe that, then you need to wake up because there are doctors out there who – even though they're following their Hippocratic oath, there are doctors out there that don't – how do I say – provide all the tests necessary to fully understand what your problem is. They'll do an x-ray. Let's say you slip and fall and you hurt your back. They'll do an x-ray to make sure you don't have any broken bones. And they'll order physical therapy and maybe give you some pain medications or muscle relaxers. But do they do an MRI? Because an MRI – which stands for “magnetic resonance imaging” – an MRI is necessary to properly diagnose whether or not you have a disk herniation. It looks at the soft tissue in between the vertebral bodies, whereas an x-ray looks at the vertebral bodies. So, you know, a company doctor is much less apt to order an MRI as opposed to an independent doctor. So, at Gordon & Elias, we make sure that you go to independent doctors who fully assess your injuries.

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