Injuries can occur in any workplace, including in the maritime industry. While most workplace injuries are covered by state workers’ compensation laws, injured seamen are covered by the Jones Act.
To prove employer negligence under the Jones Act, the seaman has the duty to prove several elements, one of which is that their employer’s negligence caused their injury. Proving causation in a Jones Act negligence claim is easier than proving negligence under a traditional negligence lawsuit.
Proving causation in a traditional negligence claim
In a traditional negligence claim, to prove causation the plaintiff must prove their injuries were both the actual and proximate cause of their injuries. Actual cause can be referred to as “but-for” cause. That is, but-for the defendant’s breach of their duty of care, the plaintiff would not have been injured.
To prove proximate cause, the injuries must have been anticipatory. Basically, this means that a reasonable person would know that the specific breach of duty would lead to the type of injuries the plaintiff suffered.
Proving causation in a Jones Act negligence claim
In a Jones Act negligence claim, negligence can be shown if the employer’s actions contributed to the seaman’s injuries. This contribution can be slight, alongside the actions of someone else, or in combination with a separate cause. Some refer to this as the “featherweight causation standard.”
Note, too, that causation in a Jones Act negligence claim is different than causation in an unseaworthiness claim. In an unseaworthiness claim, unseaworthiness must be a substantial factor in the incident that brought about the seaman’s injuries.
Workers covered by the Jones Act enjoy a lower burden of proof in employer negligence claims than workers who are not covered by the Jones Act. This reflects the fact that work as a seaman is dangerous, and employers have a significant duty of care to ensure their vessels are reasonably and suitably safe for workers.