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The Jones Act

Offshore Accidents Lawyer > The Jones Act

Unlike land workers, seamen do not have traditional rights under workers’ compensation laws. Instead, an injured seaman or crew member must file a claim for damages under the Jones Act. This could include sailors, deckhands, divers, mechanics, drillers, stewards, mates, cooks, fishermen, captains, pilots, and anyone in any other working position aboard the vessel.


The Jones Act grants the maritime worker, more specifically a “seaman” or crew member, the right to sue his employer for damages if he is injured due to his employer’s negligence.


Under the Jones Act, the plaintiff can claim loss of salary, medical expenses, and monetary compensation for injuries sustained on board during the performance of his duties, during the maintenance of the vessel, or while working for his employer, whether on or off the ship. However, the Jones Act only protects maritime workers who meet the legal definition of “seamen” or crew members.


The Rights of Seamen


The Jones Act does not define who is a seaman or crew member. The North American jurisprudence is the one that has established the legal definition of seaman or crew member. In two cases, Chandris v. Latsis (1995) and Harbor Tug and Barge Company v. Papai (1997), the Supreme Court of the United States established that to be classified as a seaman or crew member and protected by the Jones Act, the plaintiff must meet two fundamental requirements:


  1. Their duties must contribute to the operation of the ship or to the fulfillment of its mission – Every ship that sails does so with a mission, whether recreational, scientific or commercial. The mission may be to transport passengers from one port to another, or it may be to transport cargo. Every seaman constantly aboard the ship contributes to the fulfillment of his mission. That is, all those who work onboard a ship contribute in some way to their mission or would not be on board. The cook, the waiter, the waiter, the cleaning staff, the navigator, the ship’s doctor, the engineer … all contribute, in their own way, to the fulfillment of the ship’s mission.
  2. The plaintiff must have a working relationship with a ship that is at sea (or with an identifiable fleet of such ships) that is substantial in terms of its duration and nature. – With this requirement, things may get confusing, and that is why it is important that if you suffer an injury, you contact a maritime lawyer. The reason is that while the first requirement can be met, the second one is not necessarily met. If the second requirement is not met, you may not qualify to file a lawsuit under the Jones Act.


This requirement has two parts:


  • The plaintiff must work on a “ship that is at sea” and his contribution or work must be “substantial in terms of its duration and nature.” – To qualify as a seaman or crew member, a maritime worker must work most of his time on a ship. And it’s the part of “ship that is at sea” that matters. For a ship to meet this definition, it must meet the following requirements:
  • The vessel must operate in navigable waters. These are the waters through which it travels either to reach the United States or travel from one port to another within the US or the world. Navigable waters can be an ocean, a large river or an inland lake.
  • The ship must be able to move by its own means.
  • The ship must not be permanently anchored. – This strict definition excludes oil platforms. It also excludes ships in scrap yards. While oil rigs seem to float, they can only move if they are towed. Most of the time, oil rigs are anchored at the bottom of the sea and therefore do not meet the definition of a ship “in navigation.”


Seamen Protected by the Jones Act


When determining the worker’s contribution to the operation of a particular vessel or a fleet of related vessels, a seaman or crew member is one who contributes, at least 30 percent of his time onboard, to the fulfillment of the ship’s mission.


Consider this example: an administrative employee who normally works in an office inland but occasionally has to work on a ship suffers an injury while onboard. Does he have the right to file a lawsuit under the Jones Act?


This depends on the circumstances. If he does not do any work onboard that contributes to the operation of the ship, then he does not qualify as a seaman or crew member according to the Jones Act. If this administrative employee spends 40 percent of his time onboard to perform tasks that contribute to the operation of the ship and the rest is spent in an office on land, then he could qualify as a seaman or crew member, because more than 30 percent of his working time is devoted to tasks aboard a ship “in navigable waters.”


The court will examine the applicant’s career in the maritime company. If the worker has spent more than 30 percent on board a particular ship or a fleet of ships, he could qualify as a seaman and claim damages under the Jones Act.


Since the Jones Act does not explicitly define who is a seaman or a member of the crew, jurisprudence has taken care of the legal definition. Since the legal definition is not accurate, and given the variety of vessels operating today, as well as a large number of maritime jobs that exist, it is important that, before filing a claim, injured maritime workers seek legal advice, to determine if they qualify as seamen or crew members under the Jones Act.


Jones Act Claims


If a qualified seaman is covered, he or she may file a claim to seek damages and compensation. The law states that a seaman must file that claim within seven days of an injury. It is best to file a claim as soon after an accident as possible. Injuries should also be reported to a Captain, supervisor, or manager as soon as possible. The claim process also requires that an official maritime accident report be field that details the accident or injury.


Pain and Suffering Claims


There are several things that can be claimed by an injured seaman according to the Jones Act, including damages for pain and suffering. This may include both physical and mental pain and suffering. The law does not set a guideline for exactly how much in damages a seaman should receive for physical or mental suffering. Each case is treated individually and damages are considered and awarded depending on the particular details.


Lost Wages Claims


A claim for lost wages can be very important to any injured seaman. If you are unable to work because of your injury, you can seek damages for the earnings you lose as a result. Claims can be made to receive pay for present lost wages, reduced future earning capacity, and benefits like 401k contributions, pensions, and accumulated vacation time.


Medical Costs Claims


Injured seamen may have extensive medical bills as a result of a maritime accident and this is another type of claim that can be made according to the Jones Act. If you are injured you can claim the present expenses, but also anticipated future medical expenses that may be needed as a result of the injury. Claims may include transportation costs for receiving treatment, rehabilitation, surgery, occupational therapy, physical therapy, mental health care, and any equipment needed because of the injury.


Punitive Damages Claims


In the case that a vessel was found to be known by the employer to be unseaworthy or the employer was recklessly negligent in some way, and this resulted in an accident and injury to a seaman, that worker may claim punitive damages in addition to any medical costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering claims. It is not as easy to win damages like these, as it has to be proven that the employer showed reckless disregard for employees and their safety.


Wrongful Death Claims


In the terrible event that a seaman dies aboard a vessel, his or her beneficiaries or dependents can file a Jones Act claim for wrongful death. The claim, if won, may provide dependents with financial support in a variety of forms. The support may be for lost wages, funeral costs, pain and suffering, medical expenses for the seaman prior to death, and for special costs needed for dependent children.


Supporting the U.S. Military


The importance of the Jones Act to the U.S. Military cannot be overstated. The Act includes regulations that force all vessels in the U.S. and in coastal waters to follow American laws. It also pushes for safer and more productive maritime work environments because it requires that employers be held accountable when workers are injured or killed.


Helping to keep the U.S. maritime industry safe, productive, and thriving supports the military because it can be called upon in times of need. The U.S. Navy in particular relies on having a private maritime industry that is ready to be used during war time. The military needs to be able to rely on the ships, terminals, ports, and associated technologies throughout the U.S. if war makes calling on them necessary.


Injured at Sea?


If you or a loved one was injured in an accident at sea, contact a personal injury lawyer immediately. It is difficult for a layperson to understand the complexities of federal and maritime law. Retaining the services of a skilled and experienced Houston maritime accident lawyer can save you time and money, while also placing you in a position to recover damages. Call the Law Offices of PMR Law at 832-667-7700 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a personal injury lawyer who will tirelessly fight for your legal rights.


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PMR Law is considered one of the Best Law Firms of America, by Rue Ratings. Several of our attorneys have been given the honor of being named Super Lawyers by Thomson Reuters. The American Institute of Personal Injury Attorneys has named our attorneys 10 Best in Client Satisfaction. Speaking of personal injury, Attorney and Practice Magazine awarded our attorneys with Top 10 Personal Injury Attorney distinctions. The National Trial Lawyers, as well as the American Academy of Attorneys, have named two of our attorneys as Top 40 Under 40. Our attorneys have been recognized as Best Attorneys of America, by Rue Ratings. PMR Law is a proud member of the Multi-Million Dollar Advocate Forum.

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