INFORMATION AND WHAT TO DO
Louisiana commercial fishermen, ferry operators, oil rig workers, and other seamen depend upon the Jones Act as one of the only means of recovery after a job-related injury, as the rules of workers’ compensation do not typically apply to sea-based workers. The more you know about Jones Act claims, the more prepared you will be when dealing with an occupational injury or illness.
What is the Jones Act?
The Jones Act is part of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920. This is a federal statute that supports commercial sea activity through the development and maintenance of a merchant marine. It came about after World War I as an effort to create a safe network of mariners after the German navy heavily damaged the U.S. Fleet. The Jones Act mainly called for all goods shipped to and from U.S. ports to use U.S. vessels. Title 46 of U.S. Code §30104 allows an injured seaman to bring a civil action against his employer if the seaman was acting in the course of employment as a vessel crew member, if the employer was found to be negligent, and if the employer’s negligence was the cause of the seaman’s injuries. This is significantly different from a typical worker’s injury matter, where state workers’ compensation statutes generally prohibit employees from bringing lawsuits against employers for injuries caused by employer negligence.
Boaters, fishers, and swimmers can enjoy everything from deep sea fishing to kayaking. Not every boater is prepared, capable, or willing to uphold waterway rules and stay safe while enjoying a day on the water, after a boating accident that leaves you with personal injuries, property damage, or other losses, consult with a personal injury attorney from Murphy Law Firm at (225) 928-8800.
A seaman injured in the course of employment or, if the seaman dies from the injury, the personal representative of the seaman may elect to bring a civil action at law, with the right of trial by jury, against the employer. Laws of the United States regulating recovery for personal injury to, or death of, a railway employee apply to an action under this section.
FELA permits seamen to bring personal injury lawsuits and legal actions against their employers in the event of work-related injuries or illnesses at sea. The extension of FELA to seamen is vital since these employees do not have the option of recovering through workers’ compensation like most land-based workers. Without the Jones Act, maritime workers might be stuck without a means of recovery for work-related injuries. Instead, they may take legal action against negligent employers who cause or contribute to accidents. If a seaman dies, surviving family members have the same right to make a claim on behalf of their loved one against the negligent company or employer.
Under the Jones Act, an employee can sue an employer for injuries and illnesses incurred onboard during work hours if the employee can prove negligence. The employee also has the right to hold the vessel owner responsible on the grounds of unseaworthiness, if applicable. Finally, the Jones Act entitles seamen to receive “maintenance and cure” payments during recovery, which can include medical costs, room and board, utility payments, and other expenses until the employee reaches the “point of maximum medical improvement,” regardless of fault for the injury.
What are Maintenance and Cure?
“Maintenance and cure” is the policy of providing injured seamen with medical care, treatment and support during convalescence. Seamen are eligible for maintenance and cure even without a Jones Act claim, and will be entitled to maintenance payments until reaching the point of maximum possible cure. Because maintenance and cure is a completely separate right from a Jones Act claim, there is no requirement that the employer’s negligence causes the injury or illness. Therefore, the seaman must only prove that the injury or illness occurred while employed on a vessel as a seaman and was not caused by willful misbehavior.
What is Unseaworthiness?
An unseaworthiness claim is a common law (law not created by written statute) right to damages when an injury is caused by an unseaworthy condition on the vessel. For example, a seaman injured on a vessel when a poorly maintained ship’s crane collapses may have an unseaworthiness claim, in addition to a Jones Act claim and a right to maintenance and cure.
Do You have a Jones Act Claim?
First, you must be a “seaman.” A seaman is a (male or female) worker with duties that contribute to the function of a vessel in navigation or accomplishment of its mission and the worker’s connection to the vessel must be substantial. For example, you would likely be considered a seaman if you were employed aboard an oil tanker by the shipowner to maintain and repair the ship’s propulsion for weeks at a time. However, if you were the employee of an electronics firm that was contracted by the ship’s owner to tune the ship’s radar while the ship was in port you would not necessarily be considered a seaman.
Next, you must have a connection to a “vessel.” A vessel is any watercraft or other contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water. For example, a floating casino that is permanently secured to the shore will not be considered a vessel for Jones Act purposes.
Finally, your injury must have been caused, at least in part, by your employer’s negligence.
Recovering damages via the Jones Act is a likely possibility for any maritime worker, fisherman, or seamen working out of Louisiana’s coasts. You might only qualify for maintenance and cure payments, or you might be eligible for more in light of an employer’s or ship owner’s negligence. In fact, the federal worker’s compensation program for seamen (the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act) often results in greater benefits for injured maritime workers than land-based workers. A conversation with an experienced maritime attorney who can evaluate your case and discuss your rights by exploring all legal options available to you. To find out whether the Jones Act could help you, call (225) 928-8800 or sign up online for a free consultation at Murphy Law Firm.
For more in-depth reading on the subsections of U.S Code Title 46, click here.
- Subtitle I—General (§§ 101 – 505)
- Subtitle II—Vessels and Seamen (§§ 2101 – 15109)
- Subtitle III—Maritime Liability (§§ 30101 – 31343)
- Subtitle IV—Regulation of Ocean Shipping (§§ 40101 – 44106)
- Subtitle V—Merchant Marine (§§ 50101 – 58109)
- Subtitle VI—Clearance, Tonnage Taxes, and Duties (§§ 60101 – 60507)
- Subtitle VII—Security and Drug Enforcement (§§ 70001 – 70508)
- Subtitle VIII—Miscellaneous (§§ 80101 – 80509)