Frequently Asked Questions About a Seaman's/Fisherman's Personal Injury
Maritime Injury Lawyers
Serving Alaska, Oregon, and Washington State
1. Who Are Beard Stacey & Jacobsen, LLP?
We are experienced maritime lawyers in business to help injured seamen, fishermen, ferry vessel workers, off-shore oil rig workers, longshoremen and harborworkers, and other maritime workers. Maritime legal work is virtually all we do. We have maritime lawyers licensed in Washington, Alaska and Oregon. And, we handle maritime cases all over the United States. We can handle cases all over the country because maritime law and the Jones Act are federal laws so it is fairly uniform in all the states. Look at our page “About Us” to read specifics and biographies of our lawyers.
2. How much does it cost to talk to you about my case?
Absolutely nothing. We are maritime lawyers in business to help injured seamen and fishermen. We offer an initial consultation free of charge. Our toll free number is 1-877-DECKLAW (1-866-974-9633). We have an answering service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We can be reached at anytime.
3. How do I hire you for my lawyer?
First, let’s talk about your case. We have been in business for a long time because we want what is best for the client. We need to explain as best we can what is involved in a legal case. We want you to understand the process before we get started.
You can hire a lawyer on a contingency fee basis. This means that you do not owe a fee unless we obtain money damages. If we do recover money damages for you, then we take a percentage, usually 1/3, which is a standard fee. There are several other features in the Retainer Agreement which we will fully explain.
4. What are my rights? I have been injured while working as a seaman/fisherman.
A seaman/fisherman has certain rights following a personal injury while working:
5. Can I choose my own doctor? Or, do I have to go to the doctor picked by the insurance company?
An injured seaman has the right to choose his/her own doctor. Oftentimes, the insurance adjuster or employer sends you to a doctor they hire. We suggest that, in most instances, it is better to go to a completely independent doctor. We can help you find the right doctor for you.
6. Is the insurance adjuster or company claims manager working for me?
Absolutely not. Often, the employer has a claims manager or hires an insurance adjuster to deal with your case. These people are not your friends. They often sound like they are helping you out. But, in reality, they are working to minimize your claim. They most likely have already started their “investigation,” which really is an attempt at damage control. They routinely interview witnesses and do their best to control damaging evidence and testimony.
7. Should I fill out an accident report?
Yes, you should report the injury. In fact, maritime law requires that you report the injury within 7 days. If you have not reported the injury in 7 days, you still may bring a claim. But, you should report the injury as soon as you can after the injury occurs. If you have not already done so, feel free to call us and we can help you complete an accident report. Often, you are presented with injury report forms with questions about “was the injury caused by somebody’s fault?” These questions should be answered in a way that protects your rights. Again, we will provide a free initial consultation to help you complete these accident reports.
8. The insurance adjuster wants a tape recorded statement. Must I give a tape recorded statement?
You do not have to give an insurance adjuster - or anyone else - a tape recorded statement. It is our strong advice that you should rarely - if ever - give a recorded statement. A skilled questioner may get you to say something that later will be used against you. Or, the skilled questioner may only get ½ the story - the story that helps the insurance company. The insurance adjuster, in most states, must ask and receive your permission before he/she can record you.
9. Do I have a good case?
Each case is different. The best way to answer this question is to ask us. We have been in the maritime personal injury business for nearly 25 years. We have been involved in most of the major sinking cases during that time. We have handled injuries occurring on all types of boats - crabbers, draggers, longliners, factory trawlers, ferry boats, tug and barge, offshore oil rigs, helicopter and airplane crashes, and passenger ships. We have handled all types of Jones Act injuries and other maritime injuries caused by all sorts of equipment - including processing machinery, baitchoppers, pots, lines, hooks, hydraulics, cranes, blocks, Marco and Mustad longlining gear, nets, winches, steps, grates. We have handled all types of injuries to the body including head injuries, back injuries, amputations, knee injuries, all types of broken bones and ligaments, and post traumatic stress disorder.
Our initial consultation is free of charge. We will be pleased to answer all your questions and give our best advice as to whether you have a good case. Thankfully, the Jones Act law favors seamen and fishermen in many ways. We suggest that injured maritime workers, Jones Act seamen and fishermen, and passengers look at our website at www.maritimelawyer.us to review a representative list of our successes.
10. How much is my case worth?
Again, each Jones Act and maritime personal injury case is different and stands on its own. Often times, the answer to this question depends upon medical opinions and whether the Jones Act seaman/fisherman or maritime worker can return to work following the injury. We again offer to answer all your questions in a free initial consultation. We have the experience to give you a good idea of what each case is worth early on after an injury. We are proud of our record and have collected many millions of dollars for our clients. We suggest that injured maritime workers, Jones Act seamen and fishermen, and passengers look at our website at www.maritimelawyer.us to review a representative list of our successes.
11. Do I have to file a lawsuit to settle my case?
An injured Jones Act seaman/fisherman does not necessarily need to file a lawsuit to obtain a settlement. We understand that sometimes there are circumstances where the injured seaman or fisherman does not want to file a lawsuit. However, in our nearly 25 years of being in business, we can tell you that rarely does the insurance company pay an injured Jones Act seaman or fisherman what the case is worth without filing a lawsuit. The insurance company is in business to pay as little as possible. So, unless the insurance company sees a trial date coming, they are not usually motivated to pay the true value of a case. In most cases, we recommend filing a lawsuit as soon as possible. It usually takes a year or more to get a trial date. Therefore, the sooner you get started, the sooner the insurance company will take your case seriously.
12. What should I expect if I file a lawsuit?
A lawsuit is commenced when we file a “complaint.” The shipowner then responds with its “answer.” Thereafter, the case has a “discovery” phase. This is where both sides take steps to “discover” the strengths and weaknesses of the other side’s case. One way to conduct discovery is to send formal written questions (called Interrogatories, Requests For Production of Documents, or Requests For Admission) to the other side, which must be answered under oath. These Discovery Questions can be very broad and will ask about all sorts of things. They will ask you about education, work history, income, prior injuries, hobbies, how the accident has impacted your life. Although these questions are broad and ask for a great deal of irrelevant information, court rules allow a party to “discover” this information.
In addition to the written Discovery Questions, the parties are allowed to take “depositions” of witnesses and parties to the lawsuit. This is an informal question and answer meeting which is recorded by a court reporter. Of course, both sides will have their lawyers attend. Again, the court rules allow very broad questions. The testimony is also under oath. In almost every case, the lawyer for the boat owner will take a deposition of the injured seaman or fisherman.
Also in this Discovery phase of the case, the employer or boat owner often will have the injured seaman examined by a doctor of their choice. This is a standard practice.
After the Discovery period, the parties will most likely schedule a “mediation.” Both parties will select a neutral third person - a lawyer - to meet with the parties and try to settle the case. Nobody can force either side to settle at a mediation. It is voluntary but cases often settle at or soon after a mediation.
If the case can not settle, then the court will hold a trial. A seaman and fisherman are entitled to a trial by a jury or directly to a judge. We will talk about these options when the time comes. At a trial, we will be required to prove fault and all damages. The plaintiff - the injured seaman - has the burden of proof. This means that we must introduce the evidence and present the testimony which proves our case. Again, we will talk about these particulars in greater detail at the appropriate time. Suffice to say at this point, we have been doing this type of work - representing seamen and fishermen - for a long time and we know how to get the job done.
13. How long will my case take before I get a settlement or we go to trial?
Certain cases allow us to reach a settlement very early on - for instance, where there is no dispute about how the injury happened, the extent of damages, and what impact the injury will have on the injured person. In these types of cases, some insurance companies will see the “writing on the wall,” and want to avoid the costs of a lawsuit and will offer reasonable settlement money soon after the injury.
However, in cases where the employer or at-fault party disputes fault or the amount of damages, then a settlement within the first couple of months is not as likely. And, insurance companies are in the business of hanging onto their money as long as possible. Therefore, many cases will take 6-8 months or more to get to a point where the insurance company will think about a settlement.
14. If I file a lawsuit, will we go to court?
Most Jones Act seamen/fishermen cases settle before court. After a case is filed, most courts require that the parties “mediate” the case. Mediation is an informal meeting where the parties usually arrange for a neutral third person (usually a maritime lawyer) to listen to the arguments of both sides and then try to get both parties to voluntarily reach a settlement.
We have had success in the mediation system. It can produce some good settlements. However, we feel that we must negotiate from a position of strength. We will prepare our case very well before mediation in order to show the insurance company that it will be in for a tough battle at a trial if it does not pay the value of your case. And, if the insurance company refuses to pay a reasonable settlement amount, then we will be ready to go to trial and have a judge or jury make an award.
15. Will someone from the insurance company follow me or film me?
It is not uncommon for insurance companies to hire someone to follow and film a claimant. This is another reason we recommend filing a lawsuit. The rules that control in a lawsuit allow us to discover whether the insurance company has filmed you.
16. How long after my injury must I file a lawsuit?
A seaman and fisherman have 3 years from the date of his/her injury in which to bring a lawsuit. There are only a very few, narrow exceptions to this law. We caution that waiting until the last moment to file a lawsuit is not a good idea. Boats are sold and fishing companies go out of business.
17. Where must I file my lawsuit?
Generally speaking, the injured seaman or fisherman must sue where the injury occurred or where the employer or boat owner has its office. There may be an employment contract which tries to dictate the location of where a suit must be filed. Sometimes, those contract provisions will control.
A seaman may file in Federal Court or in a State Court. There may be an advantage in one court or the other, depending upon the facts of your case.