If you work on a commercial vessel, you’ve likely heard of the Jones Act. It’s officially called the Merchant Marine Act of 1920.
The aspect of the law that most affects maritime workers involves work-related injuries and compensation to injured workers. The Jones Act allows maritime workers who have been injured due to their employer’s negligence to sue them for damages.
Who is covered by the Jones Act?
You’re covered under the law if you spend at least 30% of your work time on a vessel in navigation. A “vessel in navigation” doesn’t necessarily need to be moving. It can be docked. It just has to be able to move. The Jones Act refers to employees it covers as “seamen.”
Traditional workers’ compensation typically covers work-related injuries and illness whether the employer or employee is at fault. As noted above, to file a claim under the Jones Act, a seaman has to be able to show that their employer was in some way responsible.
This can include things like:
- Areas on the ship that are poorly maintained (such as oil on the deck that caused a fall
- Poorly maintained or improper equipment
- Poor training of others on the vessel
- Violence by a coworker
This doesn’t necessarily mean that an employee who bears some responsibility can’t file a claim. For example, it could be argued that they should have noticed the pool of oil on the deck. However, if it had been cleaned up or cordoned off, it wouldn’t have caused the fall – which is much the same argument someone could make in any personal injury lawsuit.
Improving your chances of a successful claim
Since, unlike workers’ compensation claims, a Jones Act claim affects a company’s bottom line directly, you can expect them to fight a claim – particularly if it involves a significant amount of money. Sometimes, however, they’ll agree to settle to avoid a lawsuit.
It’s crucial that if you’re considering a Jones Act claim that you take the appropriate steps like reporting your injury immediately, completing an accident report and getting medical treatment (in whatever order makes most sense). It can also be wise to have legal guidance to improve your chances of getting the compensation you deserve.