Here's What The Jones Act Says About Working On An Offshore Oil Rig

You might remember the years 2003 to 2013 as being boom years for working on the oil rig. The number of drilling rigs skyrocketed and grew by 71 percent, and there was more than enough work to go around as the workforce on rigs doubled.

At the same time, the number of work-related fatalities across the injuries grew by 27.6 percent. Over half of the people who died as a result of fatal injuries were those who worked for the companies that service oil wells.

What are you supposed to do if you are injured while working on an offshore oil rig? After all, you're at sea and outside the jurisdiction of a state.

You might be surprised to find out that the Jones Act covers offshore drilling accidents.

Here's what the Jones Act says and how it may be able to help you seek compensation for your injury or the loss of a loved one.

What is the Jones Act?

The Jones Act features three laws passed by the U.S. Congress. It was most recently updated in 2006. It came into being because before 1920, a sailor injured at sea had no legal way to seek compensation for their injury - even in cases of gross negligence.

Today, it allows seamen to request compensation under the Federal Employer's Liability Act.

Most people working on an offshore oil rig qualify for protection under the Jones Act. It applies to workers injured while they participate in their duties on a vessel on a navigatable waterway.

A "vessel" usually refers to boats and barges, but a 2005 court ruling allows oil rigs to qualify as vessels. Oil drilling rigs allowed in the standard include:

  • Tension leg platforms

  • Jack-up rigs

  • Drilling ships

  • Semi-submersible ships

  • Spar platforms

A "navigable waterway" includes the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans as well as the Gulf of Mexico and major rivers including the Mississippi River.

What's Excluded?

If you work on an oil production platform or rig that's fixed to the seabed (i.e., one that doesn't float), then there's no precedent for coverage under the act.

Instead, you will look towards the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act. The act covers people like dock workers and those who work on land and catches up employees that otherwise not covered by the Jones Act.

What Does the Jones Act Offer to Workers?

The Jones Act entitles eligible injured workers to "maintenance" and "cure" regardless of who is legally at fault for the injuries

Maintenance is money that provides the worker with money for room and board that is similar to what they receive on the vessel. It usually works out to a per-day figure. Given the nature of accommodation on oil rigs and other vessels, it's often a small amount.

A cure is a payment for the costs of medical care that helps the worker reach the point of "maximum medical improvement." It brings you back to as close to healthy as possible after an injury.

It also allows you to seek compensation in either state or federal court and grants you the right to a jury trial when you have a personal injury case.

Is Further Compensation for Damages Available?

Workers' compensation typically requires employers to pay for medical care for work-related injuries as well as a portion of the weekly wage while the worker seeks treatment. There's no need to prove fault.

The Jones Act differs from workers' compensation in a big way. If someone working on an oil rig can prove their employer is the cause of their injury, they can seek compensation beyond what workers' compensation offers.

Why is this the case?

The standard of proof of fault is far lower under the Jones Act than in a civil personal injury suit.

You can't sue your employer under a workers' compensation law, but you can if you prove that the equipment or vessel was not reasonably safe or was unseaworthy.

What might constitute unseaworthiness? It might include situations where:

  • Poor or inadequate training

  • Lack of appropriate and functioning safety gear

  • Inadequate safety measures

  • Poor upkeep or failure to adequately maintain rig mechanisms

  • Failure to provide emergency equipment like lifeboats

These scenarios have all been previously covered under the Jones Act.

Limits on Damages Under the Jones Act

The Jones Act failed to place an upper limit on the damages you can pursue under the law.

Generally, you can seek compensation for:

  • Lost wages

  • Pain and suffering

  • Medical expenses

You will still need to offer evidence that your injuries are worth the value of the damages sought.

In most cases, you'll need to provide proof of the present costs of your medical care and the cost of any likely future costs. You will factor in today's medical bills, the costs of long-term physical therapy and rehabilitation, and the likelihood of future surgeries required.

Lost wages are also simple to calculate given your existing salary with the drilling company. You'll add the amount already lost with the amount you will continue to lose as a result of your injury.

Pain and suffering may change according to the fault. There are no upper limits, but the amount awarded often depends on the fault of the drilling company.

For example, if a loved one died because the rig failed to provide an adequate number of lifeboats for an emergency, then you can seek damages of a higher nature than in a case where the worker was partially at fault.

Working on an Offshore Oil Rig is Dangerous

Oil rig workers rely on their employers to prepare for all eventualities. When their employer fails, people get hurt or even killed.

Working on an offshore oil rig is dangerous at the best of times. If you were injured during or as a result of your duties at sea, then you may be entitled to compensation thanks to the Jones Act. The law allows you to seek maintenance, cure, and damages like pain and suffering in a state or federal court.

If you get injured on an offshore oil rig, don't sign anything. Get in touch with a maritime law expert to learn what you may be entitled to and receive the compensation you deserve.

Jake Steven