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The Jones Act

The Jones Act

If the person injured on or around a boat or water falls within the legal definition of “seaman” special protection may be available under the Jones Act. The Jones Act has special rules that protect seamen and make recovery of certain damages and benefits easier. In order to fully understand the Jones Act and its benefits, a maritime law attorney can help you understand the special terminology it uses.

Seaman

A seaman is a person with certain employment-related connections to a vessel in navigation and whose connection to the vessel’s mission is substantial. Essentially, if you earn your living at sea, you are a seaman. A person whose work is covered under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act may be treated as a Jones Act seaman in some cases.

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The Jones Act

The Jones Act is a federal law that provides remedies to seamen who are injured while working on a vessel. The Jones Act extends the provisions of the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), a statute that provides remedies for injured workers, in order to provide similar remedies for seamen. The Jones Act allows seamen to file negligence claims against employers and gives them the right to collect damages from the owner of the at-fault vessel(s) for injuries that occurred because the vessel was not seaworthy.

An employer owes a seaman a higher duty of care under The Jones Act than an ordinary negligence case, and the employer can be liable if its breach of that duty, no matter how small, contributed in any way to causing the seaman’s injury. If the seaman contributed to causing his own injury, the employer’s liability may be reduced.

A Jones Act claim must generally be brought within three years of the injury. The claim can be filed as an admiralty claim either in federal court or state court, or as a “law” claim in federal court. A lawyer should decide where to file the claim as this choice can affect the amount of the recovery.

Seaworthiness

If the injury is caused by an unsafe condition on the vessel, there may be a seaworthiness claim against the vessel owner. A seaworthy vessel must provide its crew a safe place to work and live, and be equipped with appropriate safety gear and equipment, safe recreation facilities, and a competent crew. Seaworthiness is a strict liability warranty that imposes an absolute duty on vessel owners to provide a vessel and related equipment that is “reasonably fit for their intended use.” Whether the owner knew of the unseaworthy condition is irrelevant to liability. Unlike the Jones Act claims against the seaman’s employer, an unseaworthiness claim is made against the vessel’s owner. In many cases those two will be the same.

Maintenance and Cure

The Jones Act provides seamen a remedy called maintenance and cure. This gives the seaman the right to food and lodging if he is injured or falls ill at sea, as well as necessary medical attention.

Conclusion

The Jones Act is federal law, and unlike state workers’ compensation, under the Jones Act, negligence is relevant and can provide a basis for very high cash settlements. Make sure you contact an attorney who has experience in maritime law and litigating claims related to a boating injury.

DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.