Maritime work is dangerous work. Many workers may not realize that their mental health can be in danger along with their physical well-being.
Traumatic situations can cause post-traumatic stress disorder. (Mayo Clinic, PTSD). With many stressful events possible in the industry – collisions, explosions, malfunctions, and falling accidents, maritime workers may suffer from mental trauma when they witness or experience such an event.
The Jones Act gives injured seamen a recourse when they are injured in the course of their employment. When these injuries are mental, victims may wonder what their options are. Our maritime injury lawyers explain PTSD and the Jones Act.
If you are a maritime worker suffering from PTSD, you may qualify to receive compensation.
Contact our maritime injury lawyers for a free and confidential case review.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – at a Glance
What is PTSD?
PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is difficulty adjusting after experiencing a stressful event. It can prevent a person from normal functioning in personal and social situations.
What are the symptoms of PTSD?
Symptoms of PTSD include:
- Reliving the traumatic event
- Triggers of the stressful event
- Avoiding reminders of what happened
- Negative thinking
- Lack of interest; detachment
- Constantly being on guard
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
- Irritability; hostility
- Aggression or violence
- Excessive risk taking
- Difficulty maintaining employment
- Poor relationship building
(U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, PTSD: National Center for PTSD)
Understanding the Jones Act and PTSD
The Jones Act is a law covering maritime injuries. Victims may receive maintenance and cure payments on a no-fault basis. The payments cover medical and living expenses until the victim can return to work. If the injury occurs because of employer negligence, the victim can claim personal injury compensation.
Unlike workers’ compensation systems that apply in other industries, maritime workers may bring negligence claims against their employers.
Does the Jones Act Pay Compensation for PTSD?
The Jones Act pays compensation for PTSD in some – but not all – circumstances. The Jones Act pays compensation for PTSD if certain conditions are met. Victims must have suffered a physical injury or have been within the zone of danger of physical harm to recover compensation for PTSD under the Jones Act.
Jones Act right to compensation – 46 U.S.C. § 30104
The Jones Act says:
A seaman injured in the course of employment…may elect to bring a civil action…against the employer. Laws of the United States regulating recovery for personal injury to…a railway employee apply…
With a physical injury
Where the injured employer has a physical injury accompanying their PTSD, they may claim compensation for PTSD as well as for their physical injuries. Under personal injury law, pain and suffering are compensable when there is also a physical injury. The injured worker must take care to prove negligence, their mental health injuries and the appropriate amount of compensation.
Without a physical injury
If there is no physical injury, it is possible to claim Jones Act compensation for PTSD, if the victim meets qualifying conditions. To receive compensation, the victim must prove all:
- Negligence of the defendant
- That they were in the zone of physical danger at the time of the stressful event
- Subjectively, they believed that they were in immediate risk of physical harm
- They sustained emotional injuries
- Emotional injuries were a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the defendant’s negligence
- More than minimal inconvenience and worry resulted to the victim
Qualifying for Jones Act compensation because of PTSD is both an objective and a subjective test. Objectively, the victim must have been in the zone of danger when the accident occurred. It is not enough to have been a bystander – they must have been at risk of physical harm themselves. Second, they must have subjectively perceived the danger and the immediate risk of harm.
Using this standard, some individuals suffering from PTSD because of maritime work will qualify for Jones Act compensation, and others will not. It depends on the exact, factual circumstances of the stressful event and the danger the victim was exposed to.
Case Law Regarding PTSD and Maritime Injuries
- Plaisance v. Texaco, 966 F.2d 166 (5th Cir 1992). – A tugboat struck a barge. There was a fire, but no physical injuries. The court denied compensation because PTSD was not a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the defendant’s negligence.
- Anselmi v. Penrod Drilling Corp., 813 F. Supp. 436 (E.D. La. 1993). – A defendant may recover for purely emotional injury if they are in the zone of danger and feared for their person at the time of the incident. Emotional injuries must be a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the defendant’s alleged negligence.
- Ainsworth v. Penrod Drilling Corp., 972 F.2d 546 (5th Cir. 1992) – No compensation was awarded to a defendant where the victim was 100 feet away from a helicopter crash and did not fear physical injury.
- Consolidated Rail Corporation v. Gottshall, 512 U.S. 532 (1994). – The zone of danger test limits who may recover compensation for an emotional injury. While this limitation may seem arbitrary, its purpose is to provide predictability and prevent a flood of trivial lawsuits. The claim involved a worker who witnessed their coworker and friend die of heat, humidity, and exhaustion on the job. The court remanded the case for consideration of whether the victim fell within the zone of danger standard.
- Thompson v. Cenac Towing, 322 So.3d 852 (La. Ct. App. 2021) – Zone of danger questions are factual questions that depend on each situation.
Attorneys for Jones Act PTSD Claims
As a victim, you may qualify for Jones Act PTSD compensation. If you have accompanying physical injuries – and even most times if you don’t – you may qualify to receive compensation under the Jones Act.
As experienced maritime law attorneys, we fight for victims to receive justice. Our lawyers at Haun Mena are committed to investigating your case and pursuing every avenue for you to receive the compensation that you deserve.
If you are suffering from PTSD and you work in the maritime industry, we invite you to contact our attorneys for a free and confidential consultation. Learn more about your case and how we can help.