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How the Jones Act Protects Maritime Employees

by Karla Somers on November 10, 2012

The Jones Act (46 U.S.C. § 30104) is a United States federal law that was passed in 1920 to govern lawsuits related to personal injury and wrongful death claims against maritime employers. The legislation grants crew members and officers of a maritime vessel the right to sue an employer for negligence resulting in wrongful death or personal injury. In order to recover damages, a plaintiff must meet the requirements for a lawsuit under the Jones Act, and the injury must have occurred on a navigable vessel.

Available Remedies Under the Jones Act May Include:

1. Past and future medical costs

2. Lost wages

3. Pain and suffering

4. Found (the value of lost room and board)

5. Prejudgment interest

What Qualifies a Vessel or a Seaman Protected by the Jones Act?

In 2005, the United States Supreme Court provided a definition of a vessel related to lawsuits under the Jones Act. In Steward v. Dutra Construction Company, the Court described a vessel as any watercraft or artificial contrivance capable of being used for aquatic transportation. The negligence must have occurred on a qualified maritime vessel, and the plaintiff must have been serving in the capacity of a seaman when the injury was sustained.

The nature of a qualified vessel and the definition of a seaman have been routinely interpreted by the courts on a case by case basis. According to our team of Jones Act lawyers, “Whether you are a maritime worker on a boat operating on inland rivers or lakes, a crew member of an open-sea vessel or an oil platform worker, you may be covered by the Jones Act and maritime injury laws.” An attorney who specializes in Jones Act cases will be able to determine how you can benefit from this law.

Generally, a seaman is an employee who participates in the essential mission of a maritime vessel. Dock workers and longshoremen, for example, are not generally regarded as seaman under the Jones Act since they do not engage in the primary work of a maritime vessel. Often times, a court will evaluate the amount of time an employee spends aboard a ship to determine whether an injured party participated in the mission of the vessel and is eligible to sue under the provisions of the Jones Act. Injured workers deemed unqualified to seek a remedy within the scope of the Jones Act may be able to seek recovery under the provisions of other state and federal laws.

Negligence Under the Jones Act

The Jones Act is one of many laws that protects maritime employees from dangerous conditions that result in personal injury or wrongful death. Employees serving on nautical craft conducting operations on rivers and oceans may be eligible to seek damages resulting from negligence. Injury due to inadequate rest periods, failure to maintain a suitable work force and the unseaworthiness of a vessel are examples of negligence on the part of a maritime employer. Though a damaged vessel may qualify as unseaworthy, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the damage played a substantial part in an injury claim.

The federal Jones Act provides legal remedies for seamen who sustain injury resulting from the negligence of an operator or employee of a maritime vessel. The act entitles the injured seaman or the survivor of a seaman to seek a jury trial in the federal court system. Negligence is defined as being unreasonably careless in the conduct of operations aboard an eligible maritime vessel. If you or a family member has been affected by a maritime injury, you may want to explore your options for compensation under this law.

Karla M. Somers is a freelance writer and legal researcher who contributes articles on behalf of the experienced Jones Act lawyers of Doyle Raizner. This team of trial lawyers specializes in maritime law, insurance law, personal injury claims, workplace injury, international injuries, and military contractor claims.

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