The jury trial of Texas seaman Sergio Higa’s Jones Act lawsuit against his employer Esco Marine, Inc., is set to begin in February 2013 in Texas state court in Jefferson County. Higa’s complaint alleges that while working on an Esco Marine vessel, he received a severe offshore injury because of his employer’s negligence and the ship’s unseaworthiness.
According to its website, Esco Marine is a major Brownsville ship dismantler and recycler.
The Jones Act
The Jones Act sets up a federal remedy – similar in many ways to state workers’ compensation systems – that gives seamen the right to sue their maritime employers in federal or state courts for work injuries caused by employer negligence, even if minor.
Likewise, survivors of seamen who have suffered work-related deaths may bring Jones Act wrongful death suits. Jones Act lawsuits normally must be brought within three years of the incident that caused the employee’s harm. Financial recovery under the Jones Act is based on the same federal standards that apply to injured railroad workers.
Higa v. Esco Marine, Inc.
The petition does not include details about the nature of Higa’s work on Esco’s ship or say specifically why the plaintiff believes his employer’s negligence and the vessel’s unseaworthiness caused Higo’s July 2011 injuries, except to assert that the negligence concerned Esco’s failure to “use ordinary care in the exercise of … control and supervision” of the work. Plaintiff also says that Esco Marine breached its duty to provide him with a safe workplace.
The complaint does not describe Higa’s injuries except that they are severe, painful, ongoing, “career ending” and disabling, as well as causing “mental anguish.” He alleges that his physical condition has caused and will continue to cause him to lose income and incur medical bills.
The plaintiff requests these types of damages under the Jones Act, general maritime law and common law:
- Maintenance: daily financial support during recovery
- Cure: coverage of medical costs
- Punitive damages: money awarded to punish an employer; plaintiff bases his request for punitive damages on allegations that Esco withheld properly due maintenance and cure payments and exhibited “gross and reckless” behavior that caused the injuries
- Attorneys fees
- Court costs
- Interest: on amounts due before and after the judgment
Higa claims that he did not contribute to his own injuries. Under the Jones Act, if a plaintiff is found to have contributed toward his or her injury, the damages may be reduced proportionately.
Survivors’ Jones Act damages
Potential Jones Act damages to survivors of a seaman killed in the course of employment are two-fold. First, in a wrongful death claim they may request the financial support they lost when their relative died. Second, a survivor claim may award damages for the pain and suffering of the seaman between injury and death.
Injured seamen Jones Act damages
Depending on the details of the case, the types of Jones Act damages an injured seaman may be able to recover include those for:
- Lost past and future earnings
- Diminished work capacity
- Past and projected medical costs
- Other financial losses flowing from the injury
- Loss of the enjoyment of life
- Pain, suffering and mental anguish
- Post-judgment interest
Legal counsel important
A case like Higa can be extremely complex because different legal theories can apply to the same seaman’s injury, and the types of damages available under those theories may differ. For example, the kinds of damages the plaintiff Higa requests in his complaint may not all be available under the Jones Act, but he also brings claims under general maritime law and common law.
If you are injured in your work on a vessel, be sure to find an experienced and knowledgeable maritime and admiralty attorney to help you understand the complexity in recovering damages for a seaman’s work injury or death, and to assist you in building your legal case.