What is the Jones Act and Am I Covered by It?
For nearly 100 years, a federal law known as the Jones Act has restricted water transportation of cargo between U.S. ports to ships that are owned, crewed, registered, or built by or in the United States. The Jones Act also protects American workers who are injured at sea. Sometimes referred to as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, the Jones Act allows sailors who have been involved in accidents—or become sick while performing their duties—to recover compensation from their employers. When the careless act of an employer or co-worker causes an accident with injuries, a negligence claim can be brought under the Jones Act. If the owner of the ship is responsible for the accident, due to an unsafe condition of their vessel, the person injured due to the unsafe environment, then he or she can be held liable.
Who Qualifies as a Sailor or Seaman?
The law states that it applies to “seamen,” but fails to provide a solid definition of that term. Federal courts have interpreted the term to mean any individual assigned to a ship operating in navigable waterways. The individual must perform work related to the purpose of the vessel to qualify as a seaman or sailor. Any type of work that “furthers the mission of the vessel” qualifies, therefore, the individual job description is not all that important. Under the Jones Act, however, the seaman must spend “significant time” on the vessel. Although courts generally interpret “significant time” as no less than 30 percent of his or her time on board, it is certainly open to interpretation.
Can a Person Working on a Vessel File a Negligence Lawsuit If They are Injured?
One of the primary benefits for those qualifying under the Jones Act is that if they are injured due to negligence on the part of their employer, they are allowed to file a claim against the employer. To put this into perspective, while most employees who work on land are covered by workers’ compensation, seamen are not covered by WC, therefore, they would have no recourse if injured through the negligence of an employer, were it not for the Jones Act.
What Qualifies as Negligence?
Negligence occurs when unreasonable risks are taken by an employer or even a coworker, and a seaman is injured as a result. It will need to be determined just how unreasonable the risks were, or how “wrong” the behavior, as the settlement will be based on those factors. Not only do claims filed under the Jones Act benefit seamen, but they also help deter similar behavior in the future by other employers. As with any injury claim, a seaman is allowed to claim both economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages can be quantified—that is, it is easy to attach a firm number to economic damages, such as medical expenses, lost wages, or damages to property. Non-economic damages are more difficult to quantify, as they tend to be much more subjective. Non-economic damages include pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and emotional damages.
What if the Vessel is Unsafe?
If there was no direct negligent action on the part of an employer or co-worker, and the injuries to the seaman were the result of the substandard condition of the vessel, then the “unseaworthiness” doctrine will apply. The owner of a vessel has a legal obligation to ensure the vessel is in save working order, is operated by a safe, competent crew, and is properly outfitted. If these responsibilities are not met, and an accident is the result, the owner of the vessel will be held liable under the Jones Act.
How is Maintenance and Cure Different from a Personal Injury Claim Settlement?
Under the Jones Act, maintenance and cure are not related to the conduct of the employer or shipowner, rather resemble onshore worker’s compensation. A seaman must only show that their illness or injury is work-related to qualify for a claim of maintenance and cure. Unfortunately, while maintenance and cure is relatively easy to prove, recoverable damages are not very extensive. The seaman who qualifies for maintenance and cure will receive a daily allowance to cover living expenses while healing, as well as medical expenses until the seaman reaches maximum medical improvement.
Could You Benefit from Hiring a Jones Act Attorney?
At Hoffoss Devall, we are highly experienced in claims which fall under the Jones Act. Contact Hoffoss Devall today to learn about your right to compensation after an injury while working on a vessel. We will ensure your rights are fully protected while you heal from your injuries.