McNeal Law Group, PLLC

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(844) 487-8732

McNeal Law Group, PLLC

My name is David McNeal, and in 2004, I graduated from the United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York with a Bachelor of Science in Logistics and Intermodal Transportation, as well as a United States Coast Guard mariner license. This license is also known as a Merchant Mariner’s Document (MMD), and it allowed me to work on any vessel of any gross tonnage. Since then, I’ve worked on deep-sea vessels, offshore supply vessels, semi-submersible drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, and the Staten Island Ferry.

I studied maritime law at Tulane University, which is the world’s most renowned maritime law program. At that institution, I earned a certificate of specialization in maritime law as well as trial honors. In 2016, I began my own practice and decided to focus on maritime and offshore personal injuries, particularly injuries involving Jones Act seamen. It was evident to me that most of the individuals who work offshore (as well as their families) are in no way informed of their rights. I believe it is important for individuals—especially those working within this occupation—to know what their rights are before they absolutely need to know what their rights are. It is true that “prior proper preparation prevents poor performance.” A person who knows their rights ahead of time will not be easily dissuaded by an individual whose interests could irreparably harm the case.

For Whom And For What Reasons Did You Write This Book?

This book is for all offshore employees, mariners, seamen, sailors, and their families. When anything negative happens to us in our lives, it’s easy to initially take on a victim mentality. This book is intended to transform a victim mentality into a victor mentality by educating those who leave their families behind to engage in this dangerous occupation.

In 2019, USA Today published a list of the 25 most dangerous occupations in the U.S., and a maritime-related occupation was ranked number one, which means it was ranked higher than electrical powerline installation, mining, construction, labor, and logging occupations. It is my goal to help these workers and their families understand their rights before anything bad happens to them, so that they are prepared to defend themselves. Should an injury occur, the worker and their family members will not be left wondering where to turn, how to seek help, or what type of compensation they deserve.

On The History And Function Of The Jones Act

The Jones Act was introduced by a U.S. senator by the name of Leslie Jones and enacted by the U.S. Congress in June of 1920. Part of this act allows for injured seamen to recover for damages if their employer was negligent in causing an injury to the seaman. The Jones Act defines a seaman as an individual who works at least 30 percent of the time on board a vessel or a fleet of vessels that are in navigation, which means it is not necessary to be a ship’s officer in order to qualify as a seaman. In fact, even a cook who works on a vessel for the required amount of time is considered a seaman. Barge workers, individuals who build bridges, and stewards onboard also qualify as seamen.

A worker does not have to be assigned to one vessel for the entire duration of their time in order to be considered a seaman. For example, the Staten Island ferry has numerous ferries, including the Molinari, Marquee, Spirit of America, Barberi, Newhouse, Noble, and John F. Kennedy. A worker could be on any one of these ferries on any specific day, or be on multiple different ferries within a certain span of time, and their status as a Jones Act seaman would not be affected.

The number of operations and vessels that the Jones Act applies to is extensive. One might think that the term vessel would be something that’s easily established, but it’s not. For example, there was a Florida case that involved a person who had a houseboat that was seized as a “vessel” under maritime law. This prompted discussions about whether the houseboat should or should not be considered a vessel. Many different factors were at play in this case, which ended up reaching the U.S. Supreme Court. Ultimately, it was determined that the houseboat should not be considered a vessel under maritime law. While it may initially seem like an easy task to determine what is and isn’t a vessel under maritime law, this isn’t always the case. However, traditional supply boats, tugs, barges, ferries, rigs, fishing vessels, dredges, jack-ups, offshore supply vessels, ocean-going ships, seaplanes, pile drivers, tension leg platforms, drillships of any kind, and other maritime crafts would certainly be considered vessels.

The 100th Anniversary Of The Jones Act

The Jones Act itself actually finds its roots in the railroad industry of the early 1900s through the 1908 Federal Employees Liability Act (FELA), which the Jones Act extends to seamen. FELA was developed to protect and compensate railroad workers who had been injured while working on the job. In the early 1900s, the country was trying to develop interstate commerce, so there was very strict liability workers’ compensation statutes at the time. This was shifting the financial losses and injuries—which would have otherwise been compensable from the employer—to the workers’ compensation plan because they were trying to protect the industry instead of the employee. In essence, this guaranteed minimal compensation to a severely injured employee.

FELA also established a fault or negligence-based notion of liability for the purpose of encouraging higher safety measures. This was necessary because the railroad industry was treacherous (as is working on vessels) and there was a need to effectively force employers to pay more attention to their safety standards. Part of the purpose of the Jones Act was to offer extra protection to injured seamen by federal statute to ensure that seamen are fairly and accurately compensated for injuries that result from an employer’s negligence.

The maritime industry is a national interest because it has such a large effect on the economy; in fact, 95 percent of all commerce in the United States is brought here by merchant vessels. For this reason, the federal Jones Act is applied in a uniform manner throughout the country. For an onshore injury, the law of the state applies, and for an offshore injury, the federal Jones Act applies.

To What Industries Does The Jones Act Apply?

The Jones Act definitely applies to the oil and gas industry. Houston, TX is the oil and gas capital of the world. Not everyone who works in the oil and gas industry works on a vessel, but in some way, there is usually a maritime element involved. The Jones Act certainly applies to the shipping industry and transportation industry as well because that’s what maritime does; it transports goods or people over the water.

What Is An Employer’s Obligation Under The Jones Act?

An employer’s obligation under the Jones Act is to provide a safe and hazard-free workplace for seamen. If the employer fails to do this, then the employer is obligated to pay maintenance and cure to an injured seaman. One of the most common types of injuries sustained onboard vessels are slip-and-fall injuries, because there are so many areas where a person can trip, and there is not a lot of room. Many times, ladders or stairs are steep and made of steel, so applying nonskid surfaces could be considered an employer’s obligation. Similarly, applying nonskid surfaces on walkways, decks, and other areas on a vessel could be considered the employer’s obligation.

What Are The Most Common Causes Of Maritime Injuries And How Serious Can They Be?

Faulty, old, or otherwise inadequate equipment is a common cause of injury. A vessel contains all sorts of rigging equipment and lines made of different materials, all of which should be safe and free of imperfections. Inspections must be carried out to ensure the safety of equipment; failure to conduct inspections can lead to injuries. There are several other causes of injury, such as miscommunication regarding which valves are open and closed, hazards which cause workers to fall off of vessels, and inadequate crane operation.

There are a lot of moving parts on drilling rigs, which can lead workers to cause injury to one another. This can create a dilemma for workers who enjoy their job and co-workers and therefore don’t want to file a claim for an injury. However, it is important for people to remember that the company is not their crew and the crew is not their company; the two have to be disassociated, especially when an injury has been sustained. The company will not be looking out for the injured seaman; they will be looking out for themselves and trying to minimize their damages in any way possible.

When Exactly Am I Covered By Maritime Law? What Are Some Of The Specific Components That Need To Be Present In Order For Me To Have A Valid Case?

To be covered by maritime law, a worker must have sustained an injury as a result of the negligence of the employer, the injury must have occurred on board a vessel that is considered in navigation, and the individual must be considered a seaman under maritime law.

What Is The Statute Of Limitations On A Maritime Personal Injury Case?

The statute of limitations on a maritime personal injury case is three years from the date of the injury.

What Are The Steps That A Maritime Worker Must Follow Immediately Following An Injury On The Job?

The first step is to seek medical attention from a trusted doctor—not one provided by the company whose interests may not align with those of the injured worker. The second step is to report the injury to a supervisor and complete the appropriate forms. Next, an injured worker should write down or have someone else write down everything that transpired before the injury, and take photographs of the area and the hazardous condition which caused the injury. An injured worker should not provide a recorded statement and should avoid working while they’re still hurt, even if it’s light-duty work. They should also contact an attorney who practices maritime law. The attorney will be able to help determine whether there is a potentially viable case.

Am I Required To See A Company Physician For My Injuries, Or Is It Better To See My Own Doctor?

No one is required to see a doctor that the company provides. Many issues could arise from seeing a company-chosen doctor. For example, the doctor might refuse to perform or delay certain testing, which could harm the injured worker’s case.

What Are The Most Common Types Of Injuries?

Head injuries, fractures, slipped or herniated discs, torn ligaments, concussions (i.e. mild traumatic brain injury), and loss of limbs are common injuries.

Why Is It So Critical That I Receive Medical Treatment As Soon As Possible After The Injury, As Well As Follow The Doctor’s Orders?

The more time that passes between the injury and the medical treatment, the easier it will be for the company to argue that the worker was not really injured. Everyone knows that after an accident or injury, the effect of adrenaline and shock can mask pain. Alternatively, many people might think that their injury is minor and that it will resolve on its own. However, if a worker waits several days for it to resolve and it doesn’t resolve, then the worker will be in a worse position to file a claim, as there will have been no indication that they were injured during the incident in question. Furthermore, by failing to seek medical attention right away, a worker’s injury could worsen. It is also critical to follow the medical provider’s orders, as failing to do so could be used against the injured worker by the insurance company.

Who Is Actually Liable In A Maritime Injury Claim?

Generally, the shipowner or employer will be liable. In some cases, the employer may point a finger at another company, such as a maintenance company that they might claim failed to properly maintain a piece of equipment.

How Difficult Is It To Go Up Against Really Large Companies That Have The Money And Resources To Fight A Claim?

Many of these companies have deep pockets, and the last thing they want is to have a reputation of providing unsafe working environments. For example, Bouchard is a 1000-barge company from New York that has been all over the news in recent years for a variety of safety issues. One of their employees was even killed in an explosion on a vessel, which eventually led to a whistleblower claim. Many companies will certainly cross the boundaries of ethics. An attorney will be prepared for the tactics they use and will, therefore, be able to overcome obstacles before they become an issue. They will also be able to prevent a worker from unknowingly hurting their claim.

What Is Unseaworthiness?

A vessel owner and operator owes a non-delegable duty to provide seamen with a seaworthy vessel, meaning they can’t delegate that duty to someone else. A vessel owner and operator may delegate the authority of how to operate a vessel to people onboard the vessel, but they can’t delegate the responsibility to provide the seamen with a seaworthy vessel. If a seaman is injured as a result of a vessel being unseaworthy, then the vessel and the owner are liable for the injuries. If the vessel is liable for a failure to maintain certain appliances on the ship, then they’re going to be liable for injuries sustained by seamen as a result of using that faulty, unmaintained equipment.

Unseaworthiness is a very far-reaching and wide-ranging doctrine, and it can be established by numerous potential shortcomings on a vessel, including improperly designated equipment, untrained, unlicensed, or insufficient crew members, lack of posted safety warnings, failure to provide a job safety assessment (JSA), inadequate supervision, or excessive hours. It is important to hire an attorney who’s actually worked in the environment in which seamen work because this allows them to establish unseaworthiness from numerous potential shortcomings of the vessel.

In order to prove that a vessel was unseaworthy, it must be shown that the vessel was not “reasonably fit for its intended purpose.” Additionally, the unseaworthy condition must have played a substantial part in bringing about the injury or actually causing the injury, and the injury must have been either a direct result or a reasonably probable consequence of the unseaworthiness.

At What Point Do I Need To Hire A Maritime Personal Injury Attorney And How Do I Find The Best Fit For Me?

Every attorney has a duty of confidentiality to their client, which means that anything that is discussed between the attorney and the client is not only protected under attorney-client privilege, but the attorney himself has a duty to keep that information confidential. In discussing a case with the individual who has been injured, the attorney works with the client to determine the best steps moving forward.

When an injured worker hires a maritime attorney, they do not have to inform their employer of this fact. Depending on the circumstances, it may not be the best time for the worker to broadcast to the company that they’re being represented by legal counsel. It is best to hire a maritime attorney sooner rather than later. To discuss the facts surrounding a particular case and begin executing the best strategy, injured workers shouldn’t hesitate to call 1-844-HURTSEAMAN.

Can I Go Back To Work While I’m Injured?

The decision to return to work should be made between the injured worker and their treating doctors. With that said, returning to work while still injured or in pain could aggravate the injury. At that point, however, the company will use the fact that the employee returned to work as evidence that they were no longer dealing with an injury.

Will Returning To Work Impact A Potential Settlement?

Returning to work has the potential to negatively impact a settlement. This does not mean that an able worker should not return to work, but it does mean that they should very carefully and meticulously reach this decision with legal guidance.

Employer retaliation can become an issue, but workers should know that they are protected against it, and may even be able to pursue punitive damages if employer retaliation is demonstrated. If a supervisor makes jokes about the injury or makes things more difficult than they need to for the injured worker, then that could be considered retaliation by the supervisor and the employer as a whole. Such retaliation would show that the employer was not concerned for the worker’s injury as much as it was for their own profit. For anyone who is unsure as to whether they are facing employer retaliation, contacting an attorney is absolutely necessary.

For more information on Maritime Injuries, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (844) 487-8732 today.

David McNeal

Call Now To See How We Can Help
(844) 487-8732 | 1-844-HURTSEAMAN