The Jones Act, also referred to as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, is a piece of federal legislation protecting American workers who have been injured at sea while performing their duties. It extends protections to cover sick workers, as well!
If a sailor gets hurt while on duty, their employer is responsible for paying medical costs, lost wages, and other expenses while unable to work. To make this easier, the Jones Act requires employers to purchase and maintain a certain amount of "ship owner's insurance." This insurance helps cover the cost of these expenses. Even though a sailor may be at fault, the employer may still be liable. As for how sailors can protect themselves, they must follow all safety procedures to ensure they aren't injured.
One common misconception about maritime law is that the Jones Act will protect everyone who works on or near the water. The reality is that legalese can be complicated, and I've found that many maritime attorneys rely heavily on the text of court decisions to determine who is and who isn't covered by the law.
Federal law defines a seaman as anyone assigned to a vessel or fleet of vessels in navigation, including:
- Boating accidents
- Maintenance and cure claims
- Death on the High Seas Act claims
- Personal Injury Protection
- Jones Act cases
- Maritime Medical Benefits
- Commercial Fishing Accidents
Are you aboard a vessel at the time of your injury? If so, you have the right to file a maritime claim for your injuries. Contact Pollack, Pollack, Isaac &DeCicco, LLP now for a free consultation.
- Seaman status under the Jones Act includes several requirements in addition to the 30% requirement discussed above. To meet the needs of the Courts, employees should meet the following additional requirements:
- The employee must spend at least 30% of his time on the vessel. This percentage will be higher if the 30% test is the only one being satisfied. However, an employer who wants to argue that an employee who spent more than this percentage of his time on board a vessel is not a seaman would be taking on a cumbersome burden.
- The employee must spend at least 30% of his time in the vessel's service. For example, if an employee spends 30% of his time helping load the vessel onto the ship but then spends the remaining 70% of the time working for another employer, then he does not meet this requirement.
- The employee must spend most, if not all, of his working time in the vessel's service. A vessel includes any "artificial contrivance" made to be "used as a means of transportation on water." The definition of a vessel encompasses a vast range of maritime vehicles and is not limited to only the largest, sturdiest, and most seaworthy ships.
Claims for Negligence
The most crucial benefit for those who qualify under the Jones Act is the ability to bring a negligence lawsuit against their employer. The Jones Act extends federal seamen's protection, allowing seamen to bring a negligence lawsuit. In contrast, most land-based employment is covered by workers' compensation laws, which allow injured employees to recover a limited amount of damages without examining the issue of fault.
Negligence occurs when an employer or coworker takes unreasonable risks and a seaman is injured. The wrongfulness of the conduct is highly relevant and helps determine how much money the seaman will receive. These lawsuits not only compensate the victim but also deter employers from ignoring the safety of their workers.
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Economics of both the past and future affect a worker's ability to earn a living. This includes wages previously earned but is no longer forthcoming and wages the worker will receive in the future if they cannot recover sufficiently from the injury. In addition to wages, economic damages can include medical bills, therapy, and transportation.
Liability when a vessel is 'unseaworthy.'
Under maritime law, a vessel owner must ensure the safety of its vessels. This requires the owner to ensure that the vessel is seaworthy, adequately equipped, and operated by a competent crew. With few exceptions, if the owner fails to meet this responsibility and a vessel is involved in an accident, the owner may be legally liable.
The doctrine of maintenance and cure is similar to land-based worker's compensation. However, seamen must prove that their illness or injury is work-related.
Maintenance and cure claims are easier for seamen to prove, but the recoverable damages are far less extensive. A seaman may be able to recover medical expenses up to a maximum amount. Payment for living expenses while healing is also included.
The Jones Act allows offshore workers covered by this statute to engage in a wrongful death lawsuit against an employer if an employer's negligence, carelessness, or inaction results in the death of a mariner.