What Is The Jones Act of 1920?
Louisiana Jones Act Lawyers On The Jones Act of 1920
The work of a seaman is among the most difficult – and dangerous – professions. As Samuel Johnson once said, “being in a ship is like being in jail, with the chance of being drowned.” Those who work on inland rivers, in shipping, commercial fishing and offshore still have some of the most dangerous jobs in the United States, and these workers are vital to industries that fuel our nation’s economy.
Prior to 1920, seamen and sailors suffered harsh working and living conditions aboard commercial ships and lacked any legal protection against injuries suffered in the line of work. Passage of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 – more commonly known as the Jones Act – brought seamen engaged in coastal shipping a measure of safety and security. The Jones Act regulates shipping in U.S. coastal waters and between U.S. ports. More importantly, it can protect injured maritime workers.
How does the Jones Act of 1920 help maritime workers today?
Maritime employees are under a great deal of occupational risk due to their constant exposure to dangerous working conditions and hazards. While all employees are protected to some extent under workers’ compensation laws and insurance, the Jones Act provides even more extensive coverage and protection specifically to employees in the maritime industry who qualify as Jones Act Seamen.
Who qualifies as a Jones Act Seaman?
The Jones Act does not give a detailed description of what determines ship workers and vessel status. In cases involving maritime injuries, shipping and boat companies and their insurance companies may dispute your eligibility to receive benefits under the Jones Act.
Having experienced lawyers on your side is important, not only to protect your rights but to assist in proving that your employer’s negligence caused your accident and the resulting injury.
There has been a lot of debate over how to determine whether an employee is classified as a Jones Act seaman. In the case of Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis (1995), the Supreme Court made a ruling that now serves as the benchmark for determining if a maritime employee qualifies as a Jones Act seaman. In the Supreme Court’s ruling, it was determined that:
“The worker’s duties must contribute to the function of the vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission, and the worker must have a connection to a vessel in navigation (or an identifiable fleet of vessels) that is substantial in terms of both its duration and its nature.”
To clarify the Supreme Court’s ruling, any maritime worker who spends less than 30 percent of his or her time in the service of a vessel on navigable waters is presumed not to be a seaman under the Jones Act. A seaman can be a deckhand, any worker on the vessel or a captain. Divers can also qualify as Jones Act Seamen, these are complex cases, and our firm is highly experienced in commercial diving and recreational diving accidents.
The term “navigable waters” has been interpreted by federal courts to include almost any body of water. Oceans and the Gulf of Mexico are considered navigable waterways, of course, but so are harbors, rivers, and inland lakes.
What the term doesn’t apply to are workers on offshore oil rigs, because these platforms are permanently attached to the ocean’s floor. It also doesn’t apply to workers on docks. These workers aren’t on navigable waters, and so they don’t qualify as Jones Act seamen. Fortunately, other maritime laws protect them when they are injured while working.
Legal Action for Injured Workers Under the Jones Act
Another aspect of the Jones Act that differentiates the personal injury process from a typical workers’ compensation case is the fact that if any action is brought under the Jones Act in federal court or state court, the plaintiff is entitled to a jury trial. Common maritime law does not normally afford this right in the absence of a statute that specifically authorizes it.
The Jones Act grants seamen who suffer personal injury in the course of their employment the right to seek damages in a jury trial. Under the Jones Act the employer has a fundamental duty to provide a seaman with a reasonable safe place to work.
The Jones Act also provides for a claim for the failure to treat medical claims. The shipowner/employer has the responsibility to take all reasonable steps to provide a seaman with prompt, proper and adequate medical care. This is known as “Maintenance and Cure.”
Maintenance and Cure
“Maintenance and cure” is the policy of providing a seafarer who is disabled by injury or illness while in the service of the ship, medical care and treatment, and the means of maintaining oneself during the period of convalescence.
“Maintenance” is a per diem allowance designed to provide the seaman with compensation sufficient to cover his food and lodging until the time of maximum medical improvement.
“Cure” represents the cost of medical and nursing care during the seafarer’s affliction, again until the point of maximum medical improvement. This includes the cost of medical attention, including the services of physicians and nurses as well as the cost of hospitalization, medicines and medical apparatus.
Maintenance and cure is a basic right of a Jones Act seaman, and it is not necessary to prove negligence or unseaworthiness in order to recover those benefits following an injury. Benefits remain payable until the injured seaman reaches the point of maximum possible recovery. Therefore, an owner of a vessel is almost automatically liable for the cost of medical treatment when a seaman in its employ is injured.
In other words, a seaman is entitled to maintenance and cure even if the worker is unable to establish that an injury was the result of any negligence on the part of the employer or an unseaworthy condition existing on the vessel. The cause of injury or sickness is not relevant.
Your claim under the Jones Act may have several forms of compensation, including maintenance and cure, lost wages, medical expenses, as well as pain and suffering damages.
Seaworthiness Under The Jones Act
When many consider a vessel as being unseaworthy, people think that the term means the vessel may sink – be at risk of sinking or unstable. For the Jones Act, a vessel may be at no risk of sinking, but may be “unseaworthy” based upon its failure to provide a seaman with a safe place to work, or failure to provide appropriate equipment or facilities in which to perform their duties.
If you believe that you or a loved one may potentially have rights to a Jones Act claim, you should consult with a personal injury attorney with experience in Jones Act lawsuits. Domengeaux Wright Roy & Edwards has over 60 years of practicing maritime law in Louisiana, and we provide free legal consultations and case evaluations to people who believe they may have rights to a claim. We handle maritime injury cases on a contingency fee basis, meaning you will pay no legal fees unless we win a settlement for you.
Discuss Your Jones Act Case With an Experienced Maritime Lawyer