How The Jones Act Protects Maritime Workers

When workers are on a ship or boat, they face potential safety and health issues due to unique environmental circumstances. Because these vessels aren’t located in a specific state or territory while out at sea, the federal government created The Jones Act as a way to protect these workers. You might be eligible for compensation through this maritime law if you develop an illness or are injured while working aboard.

What Types of Vessels are Covered?

The Merchant Marine Act of 1920 was the origination of these maritime laws – now commonly known as The Jones Act. This law manages regulations for ships carrying goods between two US ports. The vessel must meet specific qualifications:

  • Built and registered in the United States
  • At least 75% ownership by a company in the US
  • Operated by US citizens or permanent residents
  • Have a crew of at least 75% American workers

All types of ships and boats qualify under The Jones Act, including:

  • Cargo ships
  • Cruise ships
  • Casino boats
  • Offshore drilling rigs
  • Barges
  • Tankers
  • Ferries
  • Tugboats
  • Factory trawlers
  • Crabbing boats
  • Charter boats
  • Fishing boats

If your employment is connected to a vessel or you are spending time aboard, then you must understand your rights through The Jones Act. The law is known as “protectionist legislation,” which means that it protects both workers and employers in the maritime industry.

Workers on board these seabound vessels face serious risks on a daily basis. The purpose of the act is to minimize the risk, helping employers maintain a safe environment for their employees. If an illness or injury occurs because of a breach of safety on the employer’s part, then the ship owner holds liability for the accident.

When employers are held liable for injuries and illnesses, as listed above, they are more proactive about creating a safer environment onboard.

3 Qualifications for Compensation

Specific qualifications must be met before you can receive compensation through The Jones Act:

  • You must meet the definition of a “seaman,” defined as: “an individual (except scientific personnel, a sailing school instructor, or a sailing school student) engaged or employed in any capacity on board a vessel” (46 USC Section 10101(3)). Examples of qualifying jobs include ship captains, longshoremen working the ports, and truck drivers managing the delivery of goods.
  • You must develop an illness or sustain injuries during your employment
  • This injury or illness must be caused by negligence on the part of the employer or another employee

When a claim is filed through The Jones Act, the court reviews the evidence. First, it’s necessary to establish that the individual’s work is contributing to the vessel’s objective, mission, or function.

One important note: The Jones Act is for employees meeting the seaman definition listed above. Contract workers, harbor workers, and dockers generally can’t file claims. There are other maritime laws that cover injuries for these groups of workers.

Is Your Injury Covered?

When an injury occurs because of negligence and during your employment on board, then you are entitled to compensation through the Jones Act. Additionally, specific injuries onshore or on another vessel might be covered, depending on the activities that were occurring at the time of injury. If these activities are required for employment, then it’s likely that compensation is available.

Determining fault is an essential step in deciding how much you will receive. For example, even when the injured employee is partially at fault for the accident, the vessel owner can still be held liable for a portion of their injuries. The damages offered to the seaman reduces proportionally to the level of his or her liability in the accident.

Monetary Compensation

The court will determine the liability and responsibility for your case. Then, compensation is offered in one of two ways:

  • Maintenance: This payment covers wages as well as the cost of living (food, rent, utilities, transportation) until the employee returns to work or reaches a point where their health will no longer improve with medical treatment (known as “maximum medical improvement”).
  • Cure: All reasonable medical expenses are covered. This payment begins at the time of injury and continues until maximum medical improvement.

Additional forms of compensation might be available, depending on the condition of the ship and wrongful doings:

  • Unseaworthiness: The vessel owner is responsible for maintaining the ship to offer a safe, seaworthy experience for employees. If the vessel is found to have preventable issues, then more compensation may be provided beyond maintenance and cure. Examples of unseaworthiness compensation include pain and suffering, loss of earning capacity, and any other losses resulting from the illness or injury.
  • Wrongful Death: Many Jones Act claims are filed by the injured worker, but there are instances when the family files the claim. For example, family members can pursue wrongful death if a loved one’s illness or injury results in a loss of life. Wrongful death compensation is only available when the death occurred in connection to the vessel, during the person’s employment, and because of employer negligence.
  • Punitive Damages: In a situation where the employer refuses to pay maintenance and cure, it’s possible that the court might decide that punitive damages are required as well.

Do You Need a Maritime Attorney?

If you sustained injuries onboard a ship or vessel, then the next step is to talk to an attorney about potential compensation. Your lawyer can help you file a legal claim through The Jones Act to seek damages and compensation for medical bills. Make sure you choose an attorney with experience in maritime law specifically; someone with in-depth knowledge about the industry.

In most cases, you only have three years to file your claim. Consulting with an attorney in the earliest stages of this process helps you maximize available compensation. Never sign settlement paperwork or accept payment until you have discussed your case with a knowledgeable maritime attorney.

Our team at Gainsburgh, Benjamin, David, Meunier & Warshauer, L.L.C. is here to provide the support you need. Not only do we offer ongoing support, but our goal is to help you understand the total value of your claim. Contact us to schedule a consultation to learn more: (504) 522-2304.