The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, commonly referred to as the Jones Act, is a federal law that provides much-needed protection to seamen who risk life and limb facing the hazards of the seas and other navigable waters. It extends the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA) to seamen.
Seamen are not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, unlike land-based workers. Injured seamen are only entitled to compensation from their employers through the Jones Act and general maritime law. This act provides a remedy for maritime workers who suffer an injury while in service to a vessel as a result of the negligence of their employer or a fellow crew member.
Once a seaman establishes his employer’s liability, that employer becomes responsible for damages and losses suffered as a result of the maritime accident. An injured seaman may seek compensation for physical pain, suffering, disfigurement, and mental anguish resulting from the injury. A seaman may also seek compensation for economic losses such as past wage loss and loss of future earning capacity. This may also include loss of fringe benefits from time out of the workforce. A seaman is also entitled to receive compensation sufficient to cover future medical expenses. Maritime law generally does not give a plaintiff the right to a trial by jury, the Jones Act does during personal injury cases.
In order to make a claim under the Jones Act, one must qualify as a Jones Act seaman. It is often difficult for maritime workers to make the determination about seaman status on their own. The United States Supreme Court uses a three part test to determine seaman status for maritime workers. First, the worker must be assigned to a vessel, or an identifiable fleet of vessels, in operation on a navigable waterway. Second, the duties of the worker must contribute to the vessel’s function or mission. Third, the connection to the vessel must be substantial in both time and nature.
The most recent Supreme Court decision has extended the term vessel to include “every description of watercraft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water.” Jones Act vessels therefore include conventional vessels such as cargo ships, barges, tugboats and cruise ships. Special-purpose vessels such as jack-up and semi-submersible rigs, mobile offshore drilling units, dredges, and even pontoon rafts also qualify. As of 2005, it is no longer required that a vessel be self-propelled. Under the new rules, even a floating dormitory is a Jones Act vessel.
Under the Jones Act, seaman’s employer must:
The maritime employer is also liable for the negligence of any of its employees that results in another seaman being injured.
The Jones Act is an employee-friendly law that places the majority of the burden on a seaman’s employer.
A lawsuit under the Jones Act must be filed within a three year window of the date the injury occurred.
If you have been injured while working on the water, you should consult with an experienced maritime attorney to determine if you qualify for coverage under the Jones Act. Please contact the attorneys at the Cochran Firm today to arrange a free, no-obligation consultation.