The Jones Act, also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, is a long-standing maritime law in the United States. It is a federal statute that provides legal protection for workers injured at sea in the course of their employment. The vessel does not have to be moving, but it has to be operational at the time of injury.
The legal protection offered by the Jones Act allows the injured worker the right to claim compensation for damages sustained, including personal injury expenses, as a result of negligence or wrongdoing of the employer. Employers in the maritime industry are required to maintain a safe working environment for their employees.
What Injuries are Covered?
Injuries that are sustained onshore, offshore, or in transit to and from the vessel are covered in the Jones Act. Here are some of the common maritime accidents and injuries that can be covered under the Jones Act:
- Burns: Seamen can suffer from burns in the engine room, galley, and other parts of the vessel. Depending on the severity of the accident, the worker can suffer nerve damage, skin damage, and other types of issues.
- Slip and Fall: The unseaworthiness of the vessel can result in slip and fall accidents for workers. This is especially true for workers who work on deck, which can be slippery. Slip and fall accidents can result in different types of injuries, including fractured bones, lacerations, and bruises.
- Falling Overboard: Falling overboard is another common accident for maritime workers. This can result in hypothermia, soft tissue damage, and other injuries.
- Repetitive Motion: If seamen are not provided with enough work breaks, proper equipment, or safe working conditions, they can suffer from repetitive motion injuries to the joints and muscles.
- Electric Shock: With several types of electrical components and systems on a vessel, and the presence of water, there is an increased risk of electric shock, which can result in short-term and long-term injuries.
Who is Covered Under the Jones Act?
The Jones Act applies to workers who qualify as seamen and were injured in the course of employment. The seamen must have been injured during an activity that was in service to the vessel. The Jones Act does not explicitly state the eligibility requirements for an individual to be considered a seaman.
According to the U.S. Supreme Court, an individual is considered a seaman if their work (1) contributes to the function of the vessel or completion of its mission and (2), has a connection to the vessel’s navigation or performs work onboard the vessel. Passengers aboard a commercial or private vessel are not covered under the Jones Act.
The Jones Act requires the seaman to spend a “significant amount of working time” on a vessel. The minimum time required must equal 30% of the total working time of the seaman. A vessel has to be navigable, which in the maritime industry has a broad definition.
A navigable vessel doesn’t need to be in the water but must be capable of movement in the water. For example, a ship that is docked at the port is considered a vessel according to the Jones Act. However, a building that is on the water that cannot move in water won’t qualify as a vessel under the Jones Act. Oil production rigs that are attached to shore are exempt from the Jones Act. There are other laws that protect the rights of workers in such situations, including the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA).
The definition of seamen and eligibility requirements of the Jones Act can be vague and open to interpretation; therefore, you can benefit from getting guidance from a maritime attorney to determine your eligibility and coverage under the Jones Act. They can also help get maximum compensation for your injuries.
Damages That Can be Claimed Under the Jones Act
One of the key benefits of the Jones Act is that it lowers the burden of proof for the victims to prove their employer is responsible for their injuries. This makes it easier for seamen to get compensation for their personal injuries as a result of a maritime accident.
Some of the damages that can be claimed under the Jones include lost wages, pain and suffering, funeral expenses, mental anguish, medical bills, and more. According to Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, P.A., victims must file Jones Act lawsuits within three years from the date the injury occurred. The victims should also notify their employers about the injury and seek medical treatment as soon as possible after the accident.