If you have suffered an offshore injury as a maritime worker, then you are automatically entitled to recover compensation under the Jones Act.
The Jones Act is a federal statute that addresses the liability of the employer when an offshore worker/seaman is injured or killed. The Jones Act is officially known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 and was passed to provide legal rights to American sailors and ship crews, also known as maritime workers or merchant marines. The Jones Act came about to protect the health and well being of merchant marines and to offer compensation or assistance.
The Jones Act provides more compensation for injured workers than the normal workers’ compensation offered under the Department of Labor. Furthermore, it offers medical benefits and financial assistance to those injured at sea.
During the early 20th century, the federal government recognized the extreme danger that sailors and other marine merchants were in when conducting maritime commerce. With a high risk to injury and death, the government passed the Jones Act to compensate well those workers that were willing to put their physical health on the line for commerce and trade on the high seas or inland waters. The author and namesake of the Jones Act – Senator Wesley Jones of Washington State – saw not only the value of merchant marines but the necessity of them and for their protection of rights. According to the 1920 Shipping Board, there was a need to:
[E]stablish a permanent American merchant marine ultimately resting on private enterprise and private capital If it is the desire of the American people to maintain their present high standards of living and to retain even approximately their present position in finance and trade our annual surplus must be sold in foreign markets and in order to do this it is necessary to have a merchant marine owned and controlled by American citizens.
It was because of the necessity that the Jones Act came about to offer protection and legal rights to sailors, mariners, and merchants.
Not only does the Jones Act regulate maritime commerce between U.S. ports, but it also deals with cabotage and defines a merchant marine’s and sailor’s rights. The Jones Act does not regulate passenger vessels, which is another section under United States maritime law.
The Jones Act can be broken into two sections that are important to understand and know: 1) the regulation of trade and shipping and, 2) the protection of legal rights of merchant marines.
As for the regulation of trade and shipping, the Jones Act codifies many restrictions in the transport of good across water. For example, under the Jones Act, a foreign vessel cannot trade within the United States coastal waters. However, it does protect the rights of US companies to trade with another country. Most of the regulations have the purpose of protecting the economic interests of the United States, but also protects the interest of American companies and workers.
The second part of the Jones Act refers specifically to the rights of seamen to make claims and obtain damages from their employers if injured during the course of their work at sea or on the ship. It includes protection from negligent acts of the captain or other crew members, and even in the negligence of the care of the ship.
Most importantly, the Jones Act protects a seamen’s right to bring action against the employer crew based on claims of negligence.
Not every maritime worker will be covered under the Jones Act. In fact, the Jones Act specifically uses the term “seaman”. In order to have seaman status, a person must spend at least 30% of his or her time in the active service of a ship (maritime activity). Most importantly, it must be 30% of time spent on board the ship to qualify. This would be any United States owned and built merchant marine vessel such as motor vessels, barges, tankers, freighters, jack-up rigs, tugs, work boats and fishing vessels.
Those who are not considered seamen and so not covered under the Jones Act would likely be longshoremen or and anyone who works on a fixed platform. For those workers seeking compensation for an injury, you have covered benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.
Under the Jones Act, an employer owe a duty to the seaman to provide him or her with a safe place to work and furnish a safe, seaworthy vessel, appurtenances (equipment) and personnel (crew).
An employer would be held liable for any of your injuries if the condition the vessel, her crew or equipment were to blame.
Aside from the Jones Act, an owner of a vessel will be held liable to a seaman for an injury caused by the unseaworthiness of the vessel or its equipment. It is said to be a “species of liability without fault”. This means that you need not prove any negligence to win your case under the Doctrine of Seaworthiness. You must only show that there was a defect in the vessel that caused or contributed to your injuries. The practical reality of this doctrine is that employers and ship owners will more actively and more seriously maintain their vessels so as to prevent injuries to crewmembers (seamen). This should include ensuring that the ship is properly equipped and operated by a crew that has proven its competence, knowledge, and ability and willingness to follow safety protocols.
If you are injured while in the service of a vessel, no matter whether the vessel or your employer are at fault, you are, at the very least, entitled to “Maintenance and Cure”. The law has established that the owner of a ship owes an absolute and non-delegable duty to provide maintenance and cure to a seaman who is injured or falls sick in the service of a vessel, irrespective of how the accident or injury occurred. In other words, your right to maintenance or cure is dependent on you proving that the shipowner was negligent. Likewise, your employer cannot defeat your claim for Maintenance and Cure by proving that you (seaman) were guilty of
Your rights to Maintenance and Cure differs from your other rights under the Jones Act or General Maritime Law because you do not have to prove your employer or the shipowner were negligent. Instead, maintenance and cure operates similar to traditional workers compensation. Under this right, you just need to prove that the injury or medical incident happened while working (it is a work-related injury) regardless of negligence or conduct of those involved.
For this reason, it is usually easier to succeed in obtaining maintenance and cure benefits.
The “maintenance” aspect of the obligation provides you (the seaman) with sustenance for such items as ordinary living expenses (room, board, food, etc.) while you are unable to work and convalescing from your work injuries. Meanwhile, the “cure” element of the obligation relates to the shipowners’ obligation to provide medical treatment including nursing, medicines, doctors and hospitalization. So if you are injured or fall sick in the service of a vessel, your employer is obligated to provide you medical treatment and that which you would receive if on the vessel – room and board.
Because of the nature of the Jones Act, being based on negligence, filing a claim can be difficult. Winning a case may be even more difficult since proving negligence or unseaworthiness is challenging to do. This is why contacting a Jones Act lawyer early on in your claim is important. A Jones Act lawyer specializes in maritime law, but has particular expert knowledge of the Jones Act.
Because the Jones Act limits specifically to a negligence lawsuit against the employer, it is very different than the traditional workers’ compensation.
When a personal injury or wrongful death claim is filed under the Jones Act, the injured worker (or employee) must show that the employer exhibited negligence. Once the employee has proven that the employer was negligent then the injured worker may recover economic and non-economic damages incurred as a result of the injury. Economic damages include past and future medical expenses, lost wages, a diminishment in pay and earning capacity. Non-economic damages include payment for pain and suffering, inconvenience, loss of life’s pleasures, etc
This is substantially more coverage and compensation than traditional workers’ compensation, which does not compensate for non-economic damages, like pain and suffering, etc. Employers should be deterred from doing risky or dangerous activities, which in turn, possibly saves the lives of other seamen (crewmembers). Because of the nature of the Jones Act and the seriousness of the claim, it is important to contact a lawyer that specializes not just in workers’ compensation law but maritime law and the Jones Act specifically.
Involving a Texas Jones Act lawyer immediately when you start the claim process will enable you to not only focus on your health but obtain a more favorable settlement. If you have pain and suffering due to the negligence of your employer or a vessel, it should not be ignored or go unanswered. You deserve to know your rights if you are injured due to the negligence of your employer, its vessel, equipment or crew. Contact the lawyers at Rose Sanders Law, who specialize in admiralty and maritime law, especially the Jones Act.
The formidable maritime accident lawyers at Rose Sanders Injury Law Firm – proudly serving Houston, Dallas, and McAllen – take an aggressive stance in complicated maritime cases. We have a wealth of experience guiding cases like yours toward advantageous resolutions that support not only our clients’ legal rights but also their fullest recoveries. Please, call us now at 713-231-9288 or send us an email to schedule your free consultation.