Do Off-Shore Oil Workers Qualify for Workers Compensation?


Can an offshore oil-rig worker receive workers compensation for injuries sustained during the course of employment? That answer is complicated. Since workers compensation-related laws generally apply within a state, they are substantiatively different from the federal laws that regulate activities on the high seas. Even if an injured sailor does not qualify for workers compensation per se, however, he or she may still be able to bring a tort action against the employer or fellow employee whose carelessness helped cause the injury. Maritime tort cases can be heard in both federal and state courts.

Before you bring such an action, however, it essential that you consult an experienced maritime injury lawyer. The Simon & O’Rourke Law Firm P.C. practices maritime law and can help you evaluate the ways that maritime statutes may apply to the specific circumstances of your case.

Maritime Law

Maritime law is an area of law that regulates activities that take place upon the oceans and the seas. In the United States, two specific laws cover workers who have sustained injuries while working on drilling rigs, drilling ships or oil platform service boats:

• The Merchant Marine Act of 1920: The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, which is better known as the Jones Act, specifically protects the rights of seamen who have been injured during the course of their employment. The Jones Act allows seamen to bring claims for such damages as medical bills, lost wages and compensation for future wages.

The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA): The LHWCA recognizes the rights of workers in related maritime professions such as harbor workers and longshoremen. Under the terms of the LHWCA, a worker may be able to recover damages in the amount of his or her medical bills and receive as much as two-thirds of his or her salary while recovering from an injury, but that worker will be enjoined from bringing a lawsuit for other kinds of damages.

When Does the Jones Act Apply?

Two things must be proven in order for a worker to sue successfully for damages under the stipulations of the Jones Act. First, the court must determine whether the worker qualifies as a seaman; next, the court must determine whether negligence played a role in the worker’s injury.

While the Jones Act itself does not define what constitutes a seaman, Chandris, Inc., v. Latsis, a 1995 court ruling, defined “seaman” as anyone who spends 30 percent or more of his or her time in the service of a sea vessel. Therefore, even if an accident occurred on an oil rig rather than a boat, the Jones Act may still be relevant. A skilled attorney who specializes in maritime law may be able to help you assess your individual situation.