Jones Act Arbitration Cases
In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court again upheld the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) with its landmark decision in DirecTV v. Imburgia. The Court again held that the FAA completely preempts state law on the application and enforcement of arbitration agreements in contracts. In this recent decision, the Supreme Court dealt yet another sweeping blow to consumers and individual citizens, and once again handed a victory to large corporations. Almost all major companies in the U.S. are now using arbitration agreements in order to limit their liability. Many maritime workers do not realize it, but large employers also use arbitration agreements to avoid paying compensation for workplace injuries.
Arbitration of Jones Act Claims
Injured offshore workers are covered by the Merchant Marine Act (also called the Jones Act). Once a worker is hurt on the job and notifies the employer, that seaman’s supervisor or the company’s risk management personnel often present the seaman with paperwork to sign. Some of that paperwork is necessary and appropriate to sign; others are not. Often, included in the paperwork will be an agreement not to litigate or “agreement not to file suit.” These so-called agreements do nothing less than strip the worker of a constitutional right and basic entitlements under federal law. There is no benefit to the worker.
What is Arbitration?
Arbitration is merely a private, non-jury method of deciding a dispute. Some call it “alternative dispute resolution.” In the context of a maritime injury, a “neutral” arbitrator (usually a private attorney, retired judge, or other experienced lawyer) hears the evidence and decides the entire case. This person acts as judge, jury, and enforcer. Some employment contracts actually include conditions or contractual agreements to take any disputes to arbitration. It is unlawful to impose arbitration without consent. Therefore, if you have a contract, it is important to have an experienced maritime lawyer review it to see if you are indeed bound by such a requirement.
Who Benefits from Arbitration?
The employer. The employer fares better through arbitration than a jury trial in almost all circumstances. There are several reasons for this.
Reason #1: Think about who is sending the business to the arbitrators. Individual injured workers are not submitting thousands of cases; they are not fighting to get in front of arbitrators. Employers are. As a basic business matter, arbitration companies have far more incentive to reach business-friendly decisions. If an arbitrator awards too many claims to injured workers, do we really think the companies will keep using that arbitrator? Not likely. In a way, arbitration lets one side pick its judge and jury.
Reason #2: There are no jurors or emotions involved in decisions. A jury is made up of real people who can understand what it feels like to lose a job, lose income, be seriously hurt, and have no way to pay the bills. An arbitrator simply looks at the matter in a sterile manner, usually quite devoid of emotion. This results in lower awards.
Reason #3: It’s private. There is less incentive to settle a claim or make a reasonable offer to resolve the matter if there is no threat of bad press. Arbitration is entirely private. Decisions are not published publicly. For this reasons, there is little risk to the company.
Threatened to Sign Arbitration Contract
If you’ve been hurt, and your employer is threatening or intimidating you into signing something you don’t want to sign call Michael F. Guilford, P.A., an experienced maritime injury lawyer in Florida. We will review your paperwork and give you a completely free consultation to determine your rights. Don’t fight alone; let our experienced team help you get the compensation you deserve.