When most workers in Alaska are injured on the job, they can rely upon the state’s workers’ compensation system to provide them with benefits. Under the workers’ compensation system, employers must purchase insurance, and their insurance companies pay benefits to workers who have been injured in the course of their employment. These benefits will pay for their medical care and, depending on the circumstances, help them with at least some of the wages they lost while they were unable to return to work.
Due to some quirks in the law, maritime workers are generally not covered by workers’ compensation system in the same way as other workers. They must rely on other avenues to get help with the expenses that follow an on-the-job injury.
The Fisherman’s Fund
Alaska’s Division of Workers’ Compensation has a separate program specifically for people who work in the state’s fisheries. The Fisherman’s Fund is paid for through fishing license and permit fees.
To be eligible for benefits through the Fisherman’s Fund, the worker must have had a valid commercial fishing license or limited entry permit before the illness or injury. The illness or injury must be directly work-related and must have occurred in Alaskan waters or the Alaskan mainland. There are also strict time requirements.
The Jones Act
Rather than falling under state law, injuries to maritime workers are typically covered by the Jones Act and other federal laws. The Jones Act is over 100 years old and covers many aspects of maritime industry. Among many other things, it provides a system for injured maritime workers to recover compensation after they have been hurt or sickened on the job.
While the end result is similar to the purpose of workers’ compensation, the Jones Act system is quite different in practice. Injured maritime workers must prove that their employer was at least partly at fault for their injury. One common way to do this is through arguing that the vessel fell short of standards of seaworthiness.
Compared to other ways workers might get benefits or compensation, the Jones Act can be more difficult in some ways. However, it can also mean an injured worker is more likely to recover all the compensation they need.