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Comparing the Jones Act and Alaska State Workers’ Compensation for Injured Fish Processors

 Fish processors on factory trawlers work long hours under difficult and often dangerous conditions.  Injuries are common and can change your life forever.  In the wake of an injury, it is important that a fish processor understand the important differences between the Jones Act and Alaska state workers’ compensations laws.  If the processor was injured in the territorial waters off Alaska (within three miles) on a factory trawler or processing barge, you have the right to bring a state workers’ compensation claim and may also seek additional compensation under the Jones Act.  If you are injured outside of state territorial waters (more than three miles from shore) on a factory trawler, you are likely covered under the Jones Act and general maritime law.

Benefits for Injured Fish Processors Under Alaska State Workers’ Compensation.

Under state workers’ compensation schemes, an injured fish processor only has to show that the injury occurred at work to recover workers’ compensation benefits.  These benefits may include time loss (usually a percentage of your regular wage), medical benefits, retraining costs in some circumstances, and a partial permanent disability award if you sustain a permanent injury.  The fish processor does not need to show that the employer was negligent in causing the injury.  However, the benefits under workers’ compensation are limited and, in most instances, the Jones Act provides increased compensation for an injured fish processor.   

If you are injured within Alaska territorial waters, many fish processing employers will try to send the injured fish processor into the Alaska workers’ compensation system where the benefits are usually less than what may be recovered under the Jones Act.  Although you can pursue benefits through the workers’ compensation scheme, you should also consult with an experienced maritime personal injury lawyer to determine whether a Jones Act claim would provide additional benefits not available under the Alaska workers’ compensation scheme. 

Benefits for Injured Fish Processors Under the Jones Act.

Unlike state workers’ compensation, the Jones Act can provide important additional compensation for your lost wages, any loss of future earning capacity (the difference between what you could earn before and after an injury), the cost of retraining into another occupation if you cannot return to fish processing, and damages for loss of enjoyment of life, pain and suffering, permanent disability, and other enhanced damages not available under Alaska state workers’ compensation.   

Under the Jones Act, the injured fish processor benefits from a reduced causation standard and needs to only show that the injury was caused in part by the negligent conduct of his employer.  If you had a pre-existing condition that was made worse, you can still recover under the Jones Act if your current disability is related in part to your work on the vessel and in part to your pre-existing condition.    

Although the Jones Act provides for enhanced benefits, the injured fish processor must also demonstrate that the employer was negligent in causing the injury.  The negligence of the employer may include the failure to adequately train workers, having insufficient crew to accomplish a task safely, excessive and repetitive lifting demands on fish processors, tripping hazards on the deck, or other unsafe working conditions.  Because negligence is not automatic, it is important that an injured fish processor consult with an experienced maritime injury attorney early after an injury so that evidence and witness testimony can be collected.  The fishing companies are accustom to defending the claims of fish processors and will assign a claims adjuster to work for them right away in an effort to limit the company’s financial exposure.  They can take advantage of an injured fish processors limited knowledge of the system and engage in efforts to undermine the fish processor’s case.  Accordingly, it is important that the fish processor consult with an experienced maritime lawyer early to help navigate the system and make certain the rights of the injured fish processor are protected.