If you work in the maritime industry, you are probably familiar with the Jones Act. It establishes a sailor’s right to file a claim against an employer for unseaworthiness or negligence if he or she is injured at sea. Unfortunately, too many maritime workers sign away their right to have a jury trial and agree to go through arbitration instead. While this may seem like a good idea, it actually puts them at a significant disadvantage because settlements that result from arbitration are typically much lower than those awarded after a jury trial. If you are considering arbitration, you should speak to an experienced maritime attorney first.
They Cannot Force You into Arbitration
You may be led to believe otherwise, but the Jones Act does not specifically talk about arbitration. Instead it focuses on who is entitled to a trial after they are injured. Arbitration is less formal than a trial and less expensive because an attorney will be the one to hear all evidence and make the decision. You will not be able to appeal the result after the decision is made. Because of this, and because the awards are often much smaller in arbitration, most shipowners want injury claims to be settled this way.
Now that you know the down sides of arbitration, you are probably wondering why so many injured workers sign away their rights and agree to arbitration. This happens for several reasons, but the following are the most common:
- The shipowner or employer convinces the worker that arbitration will make the process go more quickly so they get their compensation faster. While this is true, sometimes getting the settlement faster is not worth the amount of money you lose. In addition, the average time for an arbitration settlement is 15 months, while court settlements average around 18 months.
- The employer threatens to reduce or eliminate the worker’s maintenance and cure benefits unless they agree to arbitration, which is illegal.
- The employer offers the worker increased benefits under maintenance and cure or to pay the future wages up front to the worker in exchange for them agreeing to arbitration.
This last scenario is the most common, and for many injured sailors it seems like a good option, or maybe even the only option. Many workers are struggling to make ends meet because they are not able to work, so any additional money coming in, or getting a settlement faster seems like it would be a great idea. However, if there is any way for you to manage financially until your claim can be settled in court, you are more likely to benefit more in the long term by not agreeing to the other options.
Contact an Experienced Maritime Attorney Today
If you have been injured in a maritime accident, especially if your employer or ship-owner is pushing you to sign an arbitration agreement, contact the attorneys at Kolodny Law Firm today. We can explain your legal rights and options to you and help you reach the best possible outcome for your situation. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.