The Jones Act: Maritime Law
What is the Jones Act? The Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. 688 (1970), is an Act of Congress, which governs the liability of vessel operators and marine employers for the work-related injury or death of an employee. It is a federal cause of action, meaning that the United States Congress intended for all seamen’s injuries throughout the nation to be guided by the same liability standards. Although the act protects seamen, it is not the same as workers’ compensation. It does not require that maintenance & cure payment are paid to the injured seaman, regardless of fault. In order to have a separate Jones Act Lawsuit however, a worker must prove some negligence or fault on the part of the vessel’s owners, operators, officers, and/or fellow employees or by reason of any defect in the vessel, its gear, tackle, or equipment.
If you are a seaman and have been injured on a ship or vessel and your employer is not paying your medical bills, refusing to send you to a medical specialist or not paying your maintenance, then call us for a Free Confidential Consultation at 1-800-468-4878.
In essence, the Jones Act provides an injured seaman a remedy under maritime law against his or her employers for injuries arising from negligent acts of the employer or co-workers during the course of employment on a vessel. This means that the employer must do something unreasonable or fail to perform a reasonable act that would have prevented injury in order for the seaman to win his claim Claims brought under the Jones Act can also raise claims against a vessel’s owner that a vessel was unseaworthy.
Seaman Status Under the Jones Act
The Jones Act gives legal protections to “seamen” who are injured in the course or scope of their employment. If you have been working in the maritime industry for some time you probably have heard of the Jones Act but you may not know whether you are considered a “seaman” for Jones Act purposes. It is important to know whether you are classified as a seaman because only injured seaman can recover under the Jones Act. If you are not a seaman you are likely to have legal rights and protections under other laws such as the Longshore Harbor & Workers Compensation Act (LHWCA) or the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) when you are injured in a maritime accident.
Under the Jones Act, 6 USCS Appx § 688, in order to considered a seaman a person must spend a significant amount of employment time rendering maritime work that contributes to the mission of a vessel that is in navigation. In most cases, if a maritime employee spends at least 30 percent of his work time on a vessel or fleet of vessels in navigation and capable of moving on navigable waters, the employee will meet the “significant amount of time” requirement.
Another issue that often arises in Jones Act cases is whether or not the injured individual worked on a “vessel in navigation.” In order to meet this requirement, the vessel has to be (1) afloat, (2) in operation, (3) capable of moving (4) on navigable waters.
For instance, maritime employees who work on movable jack-up platforms or jack-up rigs are typically classified as seamen under the Jones Act, whereas individuals who work on permanently fixed drilling platforms and other immovable structures are generally not. There are some structures that may qualify as vessels in certain circumstances and in other instances they will not. These “part-time” vessels can include oil and gas platforms, casino boats tied to a dock, floating work platforms and barges and other structures.
Maintenance And Cure
If a seaman becomes injured on a vessel, regardless of the fault of the vessel or its operators, his or her legal remedy is called maintenance and cure. “Maintenance” is a small daily compensation designed to provide the food and shelter that would have been provided to the seaman while aboard the vessel. Today, maintenance rates range from $10 to $35 per day. “Cure” is the obligation of the seaman’s employer to provide medical treatment, prescription drugs, nursing services, hospitalization, rehab & therapy, until the seaman reaches maximum medical improvement. Maximum medical improvement means that the seaman’s condition will not improve any further or he is permanently disabled. When a seaman reaches maximum medical improvement, the vessel owner’s obligation to pay maintenance and cure ceases, regardless of whether the seaman can return to work or not . The seaman has a right to his choice of physicians and does not have to accept treatment by his employer’s choice of physician. If an employer refuses to pay maintenance and cure, the employer can be held liable for damages and attorney’s fees.
The vessel owner owes the seaman a strict and absolute duty to provide a seaworthy vessel. A seaworthy vessel is one that is reasonably fit for its intended use, it should be a safe place to work and live. A seaworthy vessel should be equipped with appropriate safety gear and equipment, safe recreation facilities, and a competent crew. The duty owed to a seaman is more rigorous than the seaworthiness promised in a contract for the carriage of marine cargo. In addition to holding a seaman’s employer responsible for the negligent acts of its employees and officers, a seaman can recover if he can prove that the vessel was unseaworthy and that he was injured as a result.
A vessel that is unseaworthy does not mean that it is in danger of sinking. A vessel is unseaworthy if a piece of equipment breaks or is inoperable, the vessel’s crew is too small or incomplete, not adequately trained, or a condition such as oil, grease or rust exists where it is not intended to exist and the unseaworthy condition is a direct cause of injury to the seaman. In other words, negligence focuses on acts of the seaman’s employer, and unseaworthiness focuses on the condition or inadequacy of the vessel itself. Unlike the Jones Act claims, which is against the seaman’s employer, an unseaworthiness claim is made against the vessel’s owner. In many cases those actions will be against the same party. A unseaworthiness claim will bring the owner into a lawsuit as an additional source of recovery for the seaman. As with the Jones Act, an unseaworthiness claim must be filed within three years of the injury, and must be combined with a Jones Act claim.
Jones Act – Statute Of Limitations
The Statute of Limitations in a Jones Act case is generally three (3) years from the date of the injury. There are exceptions to this general rule, however such as seaman assigned to vessel owned, operated, or contracted by the United States government. Actions against the vessel owner for unseaworthiness, must also be brought within three (3) years from the date of the seaman’s injury.
CAUTION !! There are other situations in which a Jones Act cause of action or lawsuit is not available to the injured worker or that it is not the best choice of remedies or cause of action available to the maritime plaintiff. In those situations the injury and the applicable facts may be governed under a Statute of Limitations as short as one year from the date of the negligent act in question. It is for this reason alone to see a maritime lawyer as soon as possible to investigate the facts of your case. Once a Statute of Limitations to file a claim or suit passes, it is very difficult and most of the times impossible to restore.
Legal Damages Under The Jones Act?
An injured worker under the Jones Act lawsuit or claim can seek to recover the following legal damages:
- (Past Loss Income) Wages lost from the time of the injury to the time of trial;
- (Future Loss Income) Wages loss in the future;
- Medical expenses in the past and in the future; and pain, suffering, disfigurement and mental anguish in the past and in the future
Learn Your Rights with a Jones Act Law Firm Today
If you have been injured in any type of maritime accident, you should consult with an experienced Jones Act lawyer who can help you determine what legal remedies may be available to help compensate you for your injuries. A skilled maritime lawyer at the Willis Law Firm will review your situation to evaluate whether the vessel or fleet of vessels that you worked on and the type of work you performed when you were injured meet the legal requirements for Jones Act status. In the event that you do not qualify for Jones Act protections, an attorney at our firm will identify all other avenues of legal recourse that may be available to you.
The Wills Law Firm is an experienced maritime injury firm that helps seaman and other maritime workers across the nation recover the financial compensation they deserve. You can contact us 24/7 to schedule a free, confidential case review.