Frequently Asked Questions

 

1) What do I do if I get hurt?

The short answer is you should phone our office immediately to discuss your situation with a maritime lawyer who knows the law and can discuss your rights with you. Generally, you should take the following steps:

(1)   Make sure you fill out an accident report immediately after your accident occurs. Write down how the accident occurred and make sure you include anything that the company or a co-employee did wrong that may have caused your accident. It will not be easy to write this information on the form, but it may make a tremendous difference in your case later. Although it is best to immediately fill out a report, it is also ok to fill out a report even days after the accident. Many workers wait several days before reporting an injury in the hope that the injury will get better after a few days. In such situations it is still better to fill out a report a few days later than never fill one out. Insist that you be allowed to complete a report even if your employer says it is too late. You will also have access to co-employees at that time who can sign the report and may still remember your accident. Weeks or months later, these same employees may not remember your accident. Remember, the sooner you complete a report, the better.

(2)   Seek medical treatment as soon as possible. This may include insisting that the company remove you from the rig and bring you to a doctor on land. You should also try to see a doctor that you know and trust, not one that the company chooses.

(3)   Do not talk to anyone about how your accident occurred after you fill out the accident report. This may be difficult to do since a company hired investigator or insurance adjuster may meet you when you arrive on land to go to the doctor, or they may phone you and insist on taking a statement from you before they bring you to the doctor. Our advice: if the company is so concerned about protecting themselves and unconcerned about getting you immediate medical treatment that they require a statement before they will even provide you with basic medical care, then you know where they stand and you should seek legal counsel as soon as possible. If the company insists on taking a lengthy recorded statement from you before they will provide you with basic medical treatment, you may simply politely refer them to your accident report. If that does not satisfy the company, then they are trying to damage your case and you should speak with us immediately.

(4)   Do not return to work simply because the company doctor says you should. If you do not feel that you are capable of returning to work, don’t go. In short, if you are still hurting and would like to see another doctor for a second opinion or have additional testing performed, you are entitled to such. Do not base your future and the ultimate success of your claim on a few paychecks. Speak with us for guidance.

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2) Should I try to return to work after I am hurt?

This is not an easy question to answer and the answer depends upon your situation. If you have suffered a minor or temporary injury and feel you are capable of returning to work, and you trust your employer, then the answer may be yes.

You should ask yourself two questions when deciding whether you should try to return to work for your employer: (1) do you believe you will be physically capable of doing the work, and (2) do you believe your employer will be fair with you and really allow you to stay at work with them after you have had an accident and injury, even if you have recovered? If you answer no to either of these questions, then it may not be a good idea to return to work for your employer.

Sometimes company-chosen doctors will release an employee to return back to work when the employee does not believe they are capable of returning to work. If this is your situation, you should not try to work simply because the company doctor says you should try it.

It may be best to get a second opinion from a doctor that you choose and trust. This is especially true if you have not even seen a specialist or had basic testing performed such as an MRI or a CT scan.

If you do return to work simply because you are told to do so, it could hurt your claim in several ways. First, your employer may later argue that when you did return to work, you appeared to be fine and you could successfully do all the work they asked of you. You may disagree with this, but by simply going back to work, some companies later try to say that you were perfectly ok when they saw you at work.

Also, a large part of your claim depends upon the amount of money you are able to earn after your injury. If you return to work for the same employer, they may place you in a ‘sheltered’ or made-up position so they can pay you the same rate of pay that you were earning when you were hurt. This will hurt your claim later as the company will then say that you have been able to earn the same amount of money and thus have no wage loss.

In reality, you could never find that same good-paying job that they made up for you if you had to apply elsewhere. Remember, generally the company is under no legal obligation to keep you employed. Ask yourself, if they terminated you tomorrow, could you go get the same job elsewhere making the same amount?

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3) How much is my claim worth?

The value of every case will depend upon the facts of that case. In a regular Jones Act claim against a single employer, or a Jones Act claim along with a general maritime claim against a third party, you may be entitled to money for the following types of damages:

(1)   Pain and suffering, past and future–there is generally no formula or set amount for these damages. They depend upon how badly you were injured. If significantly too much or too little is awarded by the jury, then the Court of Appeal may alter the amount.

(2)   Past economic loss including loss of wages–this amount may be the difference between the small maintenance they were paying you and what you would have earned had you not been injured.

(3)   Future loss of wages–this is the difference between what you were earning when you got hurt and how much you will most likely earn in the future with your injury. It may depend upon i) how badly you were hurt, ii) how educated you are and how far you went in school, and iii) the area that where you live. For example, if you have been badly hurt and can only perform light duty work in the future, and you cannot read or write, and you live in a small town, you will be lucky to find a minimum wage job in the future. In such a case, your lost future wages may amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

(4)   Past and future medical expenses–these should be calculated by a doctor you chose and trust.

We have successfully handled Jones Act and maritime claims involving many different types of injuries. Although we cannot guarantee similar results in your case, our past results indicate the types of injuries that we have successfully handled.

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4) The company wants me to discuss settling my claim with them. Should I do so, and if so how much do I ask for?

You should never try to settle your claim with the company without first speaking to an attorney. There are many reasons for this. An attorney can discuss your rights with you so you understand your options. A good maritime lawyer can tell you in general whether he thinks you may have a strong case. The biggest difficulty in trying to negotiate alone with the company is that the company has every advantage over you.

The company has access to your co-employees and, in most cases, has taken statements from these co-employees about how the accident happened. The company will have their own records on what may have occurred after your accident.

For example, if you have not yet returned to work, the company may have made substantial changes to the area where your accident happened, or they may have changed the way they now perform the job you were doing when you got hurt. This information would significantly strengthen your case, but you will not know this when you try to settle with you company.

But perhaps the most important reason not to discuss settling your claim with the company is because you may be setting a “ceiling” of sorts on the settlement amount that the company will consider.

Typically, the company will ask an injured employee ‘how much do you want to settle the claim?’ The employee may have no idea and may simply throw out a figure, let’s say $25,000. The company then offers $5,000 after which the employee phones a good maritime lawyer only to discover his claim could be worth $100,000 to $200,000.

When the maritime attorney then tries to negotiate with the company, the company knows that you would have considered an amount much lower than the maritime lawyer would demand. In other words, you may end up making your maritime attorney’s job a lot harder by discussing settlement figures if you do not know what your case could be worth.

The only safe way to approach settling with the company on your own [which we do NOT recommend] is to simply tell the company to make you their best offer IN WRITING and you will consider it.

If you do this, you will learn quickly how tricky the company can be. Usually the company insists that you make the first demand. They will talk circles around you trying to get you to throw out the first number. DO NOT DO THIS.

Instead, tell them if they are serious about settling, they can put their best offer on the table IN WRITING and you will consider it. We will be happy to discuss any offers with you and we can tell you if it’s a fair offer. Phone us free of charge.

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5) What if I cannot travel? How will I meet you?

We are happy to travel to your home to meet face to face in any serious injury case. Many people have trouble driving after they have been hurt and we understand this. Please simply call and we can make arrangements to meet in person. Some clients prefer to come to our office so they can view the office and our staff. We encourage this if possible. If not, we can come to you if you have been seriously injured or otherwise have trouble traveling.

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6) How soon do I need to file a lawsuit?

There are strict time limits placed on when you must file a lawsuit. Unfortunately, every case is different and you should speak to an attorney to find out the time limits that apply in your case.

Generally, a claim under either General Maritime Law or the Jones Act must be brought within 3 years of the accident.

A claim for Longshore benefits must be brought within 1 year of the accident for compensation benefits and within 3 years of the accident for medical benefits, unless your employer had paid benefits in which case you must file within 1 or 3 years from the date they terminate the benefits.

A third party claim based on state law relating to an accident that may have occurred on a fixed platform in the Gulf of Mexico must be brought according to the state law that applies to the case. In Louisiana all claims must be brought within 1 year of the accident.

All of the time periods mentioned above are general statements and may not apply in your case. You must speak to a lawyer to determine how long you have to file you claim.

You should assume that you only have one year to file your claim unless an attorney tells you otherwise. But remember, many attorneys will not accept a case on the eve of one year from the accident date if they do not have time to investigate the claim before filing suit. Don’t wait until the last minute.

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7) Why hire a maritime lawyer from New Orleans?

The Young Firm in New Orleans has successfully handled Jones Act and maritime claims for years. Because many oil production and offshore companies have offices in Louisiana, our office is conveniently located close to the court where your claim may need to be filed.

Many offshore workers leave out of south Louisiana to go to the rigs or to board their work boats. Their claims can be filled in Louisiana and many must be filed in Louisiana. Injuries occurring off the coast of Louisiana may have to be filed in Louisiana. Our attorneys are also licensed to practice law in Texas, which allows us to handle cases in Texas courts.

Our location in New Orleans provides us with access to many local experts who have worked for years in the oil and gas and offshore industries. These include marine safety experts, former boat captains and pilots, former offshore crane operators, rigging experts and experts in other specialized areas that are common in the south Louisiana area.

We have handled maritime and Jones Act cases in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida, and chances are if your injury occurred in the Gulf of Mexico or on the Mississippi River, we may be able to help you. Simply call us to discuss your situation.

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    Watch how this maritime worker went back to work after his offshore injury.

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