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Defenses to Negligence Claims

When a worker has been injured, employers may try to say the worker’s injury was caused by their own negligence. It is important to speak with an attorney about your legal options when dealing with claims to seek compensation for damages. Employers rely on several defenses to show why they are not 100% responsible for the damages and injuries that result from an accident or incident that occurred on the job.

In order to win, the plaintiff must establish that the defendant owed a duty to commit an act or refrain from committing an act, the defendant breached this duty, the breach of this duty caused injury to the plaintiff, the defendants actions played a part, even the slightest, in causing the injury, and the plaintiff suffered actual damages as a result of this injury.


Attorney for Defenses to Negligence Claims in Washington and Oregon

Attorneys at Anderson Carey Williams & Neidzwski, PLLC have successfully represented clients in Washington, Alaska, Oregon and California for over a decade. Our maritime lawyers are very knowledgeable about the Jones Act and negligence claims defenses. Our attorneys work hard to get you the compensation that you deserve for your damages.

Contact Anderson Carey Williams & Neidzwski, PLLC, at 1 (800) 262-8529 today for a free evaluation of your case. Our attorneys will investigate your case fully and, if eligible, can file a claim to get you compensation for your damages.


Information Center for Negligence Claims Defenses


Types of Negligence Claims Defenses in Maritime Law

In standard negligence cases, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s negligence was the main cause of the plaintiff’s injury. Common defenses to negligence claims include a showing that the defendant did not owe a duty to the plaintiff, or that the defendant exercised reasonable care while at work.

Under the Jones Act, in order to prove causation, the plaintiff must only prove that employer’s negligence played some part in the plaintiff’s injuries. Even if there was an additional cause of the worker’s injury, the employee might still be able to recover damages from their employer.

  • Employer Negligence – Employers have the responsibility to provide a reasonably safe place to work for their employees. They must also use ordinary care to maintain and keep the vessel on which the seaman works in a reasonably safe condition.
  • Injured Employee Negligence – An employee has the duty to do their job with reasonable care. They also have the duty to use safety precautions and follow rules set forth for them by their employers.
  • Contributory Negligence – Plaintiff’s conduct fell below a certain necessary standard and this, in addition to the defendant’s negligence, caused harm to the plaintiff. If the plaintiff contributed at all to his or her injury, it acts as a total bar to damages.
  • Comparative negligence – Plaintiff’s conduct fell below reasonable standards of care and this, as well as defendant’s negligence, both acted to cause injury to the plaintiff. However, plaintiff contribution to his or her injury is not a total bar to recovery under this legal concept. See Section Below
  • Statutes of Limitations – The time period between when the injury occurred and when a complaint must be filed. Under the Jones Act, this time period is generally 3 years since the injury/accident occurred, barring mitigating circumstances. Therefore, once 3 years has elapsed since the injury, a claim may not generally be brought, again barring mitigating circumstances.
  • An assumption of Risk – The plaintiff voluntarily consented to encounter a known danger created by the defendant’s negligence. Under an express assumption of risk, parties agree in advance that one person consents to assume the risk of the others negligence. Under an implied assumption of risk, the risk may not be explicitly stated, but it may be implied.

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Comparative Negligence in Maritime Law

If you are partly responsible for your own injuries while working you may be able to clim comparative negligence, under which you would still be awarded damages, but they may be reduced based on the percentage of your responsibility for the injury.

Comparative Negligence compares the plaintiff’s negligence to the defendant’s negligence. The percentage of fault attributable to the plaintiff and the defendant is determined and then damages are awarded based on those percentages. For example, if the plaintiff was found to be 25% at fault and the defendant 75% at fault, the plaintiff would only recover 75% of damages from the defendant.

For a claimant to succeed in proving their claim of negligence under the Jones Act, they must first prove that a duty of care was owed by the defendant. Comparative negligence is not applicable if a seaman is injured as a result of a defendant’s violation of Coast Guard regulations. Violations of Coast Guard regulations may result in fines or imprisonment. A violation of Coast Guard regulation that causes injury creates liability “in the absence of any showing of negligence.” Kernan v. American Dredging Co., 355, U.S. 426, 431 (1958).

The three main types of comparative negligence claims used in maritime cases include:

  • Pure: Plaintiff is awarded a percentage of the damages for which the defendant is responsible.
  • Modified: Plaintiff is awarded damages only if their negligence is equal or less than the defendant’s negligence. If plaintiff is attributed 50% or more of the fault, he or she will not recover.
  • Slight-Gross: Plaintiff is awarded damages only if their negligence is considered slight/small, and the defendant’s negligence is gross/large.

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What is the Difference between Comparative and Contributory Negligence?

Comparative negligence is considered to be the less seere of the two. Contributory negligence bars recovery for the plaintiff if they bore some responsibility for the injury, no matter how small their responsibility might have been. In comparative negligence, the plaintiff’s responsibility for the injury only matters when determining the amount of damages each party owes.

Many years ago contributory negligence was more commonly applied, but recently courts have transitioned to using comparative negligence.


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Additional Resources

7.9 Jones Act Negligence or Unseaworthiness – Plaintiff’s Negligence – Visit the United States Courts for the Ninth Circuit, which encompasses Seattle Washington and Portland Oregon, which describe ways in which the amount of damages can be reduced because of the plaintiff’s negligence. Also, find information about the level of the plaintiff’s causation required to trigger a reduction of damages for the plaintiff’s negligence.

Comparative Negligence – Visit the website of the Legal Information Institute to see the different elements of comparative negligence and how it is applies.


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Defenses to Negligence Claims Attorney in Washington and Oregon

It is important to speak with an experienced attorney at Anderson Carey Williams & Neidzwski, PLLC as soon as possible so that they can start working on your case immediately. The attorneys at Anderson Carey Williams & Neidzwski, PLLC represent clients from offices in Bellingham and Seattle, Washington, Portland, Oregon, and San Francisco, California. Civil claims for damages can get tricky quick and an attorney can help you figure out the best possible way to combat negligence defenses and get the recovery you deserve. If you are accused of negligence at work resulting in your injury in Washington, Oregon, Alaska or California, then call 1 (800) 262-8529 today.

This article was last updated on Monday, December 19, 2016.

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  • The Maritime Law Association of The United States
    The Maritime Law Association of the United States (MLA) was founded in 1899. Its formation was prompted by the organization, some three years earlier, of the International Maritime Committee.
  • Washington State Bar Association
    The Washington State Bar Association operates under the delegated authority of the Washington Supreme Court to license the state's nearly 40,000 lawyers and other legal professionals.
  • Oregon State Bar
    The Oregon State Bar is a government agency in the U.S. state of Oregon. Founded in 1890 as the private Oregon Bar Association, it became a public entity in 1935 that regulates the legal profession.
  • Alaska Bar Association
    The Alaska Bar Association is a mandatory bar association responsible to the Alaska Supreme Court for the admission and discipline process of attorneys for the State of Alaska.