Jones Act Negligence for Failing to Provide Prompt and Adequate Medical Care

government cut2.jpgThe Jones Act (46 U.S.C. § 30104) is the primary law used by seamen to recover compensatory damages from their employers for injuries sustained in accidents occurring on navigable waters. To recover under the Jones Act, an injured seaman must prove that employer negligence caused the accident. This means that the Jones Act is not a no-fault system for recovering compensation.

Seaman injured on the high seas are entitled to maintenance and cure benefits without regard to fault. (Under general maritime law, a seaman has the right to receive compensation for food, lodging, and medical services resulting from illnesses or injuries suffered while working aboard a ship. Vaughan v. Atkinson, 369 U.S. 527, 531 (1962); see also Langmead v. Admiral Cruises, Inc., 610 So. 2d 565, 567 (Fla. 3d DCA 1992).) Hence, unlike the Jones Act, the maintenance-and-cure system is no-fault.

An employer’s failure of duty to provide prompt and adequate medical care to a sick or injured crewman is actionable under the Jones Act — See generally Olsen v. Am. S.S. Co., 176 F.3d 891, 895 (6th Cir. 1999) — while, under general maritime law, the seaman can bring a separate claim against the employer for maintenance and cure. Are the two types of claims the same? No.

The Jones Act claim seeks damages for injuries sustained by the employer’s breach of duty to provide prompt and adequate medical care. Without a discernible injury, the claim will fail. Not so with the general maritime maintenance and cure claim. A claim for M & C is cognizable where the employer has breached its duty to provide said compensation during a seaman’s recuperative period until “maximum medical recovery,” or MMI, is reached. Vaughan, 369 U.S. at 531.

Does the failure to provide maintenance and cure up to MMI constitute negligence per se (under the Jones Act)? Not according to the holding in Gabriel v. Line, Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 5th Dist. 2012. In a somewhat unusual opinion, the 3rd DCA allowed the cure claim for medical benefits to proceed, but disallowed the Jones Act claim because there was no evidence of negligence concerning the provision of medical care.

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