The Jones Act Protects Seamen

by | Aug 17, 2020 | Maritime Law, Personal Injury, Wrongful Death

Admiralty law has traditionally considered seamen “wards of admiralty,” and deserving of the protection of the law. As such, admiralty law imposed an obligation on vessel owners to care for seamen who sustained injuries while working. If a seaman was injured during a voyage, the ship owner had to provide transportation and wages until the end of the trip. Additionally, the owner had to provide “maintenance and cure” to the seaman after the voyage ended – payment for medical care and a small stipend for living expenses until the injured seaman reached maximum medical improvement. As time passed, Congress increased the legal protections offered sailors by passing the Jones Act, a provision of which allows seamen to sue their employers for negligence.

What are the protections offered by the Jones Act?

Under the Jones Act, a seaman may sue his or her employer for damages if he or she sustained an injury while working and the employer or the employer’s agent negligence contributed to the injury. An injured seaman may recover under the Jones Act even if the ship owner’s or owner’s agent’s negligence was slight. Unlike under traditional admiralty law, the negligence need not render the ship unseaworthy in order for the injured sailor to recover.

A seaman may recover for pain and suffering, lost wages and other damages available under the Jones Act, along with the maintenance and cure benefits to which every injured seaman is entitled, without proving fault on the part of the ship owner. If a seaman is killed while working, the Jones Act also allows survivors to bring wrongful death claims against the ship owner.

To whom does the Jones Act apply? Who is a Seaman?

In order to bring a suit under the Jones Act, a person must be what the law considers a “seaman.” Determining whether a person is a seaman is a mixed question of law and fact, and the courts determine it on a case-by-case basis. If a person has questions regarding seaman status, it is best to consult an experienced Jones Act claim attorney.

What are the elements of a Jones Act claim?

In addition to proving that he or she is a seaman, an injured seaman also needs to show several other things in order to recover under a Jones Act claim. The seaman must show that the injury happened within the course and scope of his or her employment. Additionally the seaman must have been assigned to a “vessel” when the injury happened. Defining a “vessel” can become complicated, as technological advances have put on the water more types of machinery to extract oil or natural gas from beneath the sea floor. Finally, the vessel must have been on “navigable water” for the Jones Act to apply, which case law has defined as interstate waterways useable as a means for commerce.

Speak with an attorney

Claims under the Jones Act can be quite complex. Different procedural rules and standards for liability apply in these cases than those applicable to traditional personal injury and workers’ compensation claims. If you have been injured while working on a ship, talk to an attorney with broad experience successfully handling Jones Act claims who can help you recover just and proper compensation.