Louisiana seamen are sometimes injured or even killed while working aboard a navigable vessel. A federal law known as the Jones Act allows an injured crew member or officer — or the family of a deceased individual — to file a lawsuit against the seaman’s employer. The most important elements of a lawsuit filed under the Jones Act are the definition of a vessel and a seaman.
In a 2005 case, the U.S. Supreme Court clarified the definition of a vessel under the Act. In order to qualify under the federal law, a vessel must be considered a form of transportation on the water — in other words, navigable. For instance, a barge would be considered a vessel, but a stationary oil rig would not since it does not move.
Defining who a seaman is, however, largely depends on the case. A general definition is anyone who contributes to the operation or mission of the vessel. For example, workers excluded from this definition are dock workers and other longshoremen. In addition, the injured or deceased individual must have been employed by the owner of the vessel at the time he or she suffered the injury or died.
Every case is different, and often requires the assistance of someone versed in the litigation of maritime cases. If you meet that definition of a seaman and were aboard a qualifying vessel when you were injured — or your loved one was at the time of his or her death — a personal injury or wrongful death claim may be filed in a federal or state court in Louisiana. Successful lawsuits under the Jones Act could result in an award of damages, such as already incurred and future medical costs, lost income and related relief.