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What is the Jones Act?
Work at sea is not for the faint-hearted. Seamen on ships and other commercial vessels have dangerous jobs, live in cramped conditions, and risk injury — injuries that can range from the minor to the catastrophic, and even death. The Jones Act recognizes that seaman face extreme dangers on the job, and provides special legal protections for their health and livelihood.
The Jones Act, also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, is a federal law that gives seamen, or their surviving family, the right to file a lawsuit if an employer or crew member’s negligence caused their injury or death. Seamen can also file claims under the Jones Act if a vessel is unseaworthy, and it provides a unique form of workers’ compensation called Maintenance and Cure.
If you’ve suffered an injury at sea while on the job, the Jones Act serves to protect you and your family. You may be able to file a Jones Act claim to get compensation for your medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, and other damages. The Jones Act attorneys at Montagna Maritime Law can help you understand your rights after a serious injury, help you file a claim, and fight negligent employers on your behalf to get the fair recovery you deserve.
Who is Covered Under the Jones Act?
You have to be a seaman to make a compensation claim under the Jones Act. But the law on who qualifies as a Jones Act seaman — and who doesn’t — is complicated.
Generally, an injured worker qualifies as a Jones Act seaman if they:
- Have been assigned to work aboard a vessel or fleet of vessels operated by their employer,
- Spend a significant amount of their work time (30% or more) aboard the vessel, and
- Contribute to the work performed by the vessel.
A seaman doesn’t have to eat or sleep aboard the vessel to qualify as a seaman under the Jones Act. While the criteria might seem rigid, some workers have been qualified as Jones Act seamen after only a day or two on the job.
The right to make a claim under the Jones Act applies to any type of seamen injured while on navigable waters, including deckhands, sailors, mechanics, divers, stewards, mates, cooks, fishermen, captains, and pilots. The waters that you work on can be an ocean, a bay, or a river. The vessel that you work on must be used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water, including cargo ships, tugboats, barges, dredges, fishing trawlers, or floating platforms.
What is Negligence Under The Jones Act?
To make a claim under the Jones Act, you must prove some negligence by your employer and that their negligence contributed to your injuries.
Seamen who file a Jones Act claim have a much lower burden of proof than many land-based personal injury cases. In a personal injury claim, you must prove the other party’s negligence was the main cause of your injury. However, the Jones Act simply requires you to prove that your employer or a fellow crew member played some role in your injury, no matter how small.
An employer’s basic duty under the Jones Act is to provide seamen with a safe place to work, and use ordinary care under the circumstances to maintain and keep the vessel on which the seaman works in a reasonably safe condition. Failure to provide a safe place to work is negligence.
An employer may be held liable under the Jones Act for all types of unsafe conditions on a navigable vessel, such as:
- Failing to maintain the vessel in a reasonably safe condition
- Improperly maintained equipment
- Unsafe work practices
- Failing to provide suitable equipment or tools
- Improper training of crew members
- Violating a safety rule, or failing to enforce a safety rule
- Violating a Coast Guard regulation
The Process for Making a Jones Act Claim
There are certain steps you must follow in order to file a legal claim against your employer under the Jones Act.
You must report your injury to your supervisor or the captain as soon as you discover you’ve been hurt. Federal law gives you a seven-day window to report a work-related injury for Jones Act claims, but don’t leave it too late. Even if you’re unsure about the severity of our injury, you should document everything with medical proof. In many cases, minor injuries can become much more significant over time.
Seek medical care and know that you may choose your own doctor. You don’t need to go to the doctor preferred by your employer or their insurance company.
Be wary of signing documents. Your employer will likely ask you to write an accident report detailing how your injury occurred and who was at fault. You are not required to complete a report before becoming eligible for compensation under the Jones Act. It’s important that you seek legal advice before preparing or submitting any reports to your employer or their insurance company.
Before taking any further steps, speak to a maritime attorney who handles Jones Act cases. If you feel your rights are being violated, or your employer or their insurance company is pressuring you to make a statement about your injuries, an attorney at Montagna Maritime Law can advise you of your legal rights and help guide you through the Jones Act claims process.
What Compensation is Available Under the Jones Act?
An injured Jones Act seaman has the right to recover damages for:
- Lost earnings and lost earning capacity,
- Past, present, and future medical expenses, and
- Past, present, and future pain, suffering, and mental anguish.
A claim for lost wages can be very important for injured seamen and their families. If you are no longer able to work because of your injury, you can seek damages for the earnings you have lost, are losing, and will lose as a result of your injury. This includes any employment benefits, such as health insurance, vacation time, pension or 401(k) contributions that you’ve lost or are reasonably likely to lose in the future.
If you’ve suffered a serious injury, there’s every chance your medical bills are piling up. Medical expenses are another type of claim that can be made under the Jones Act. You can claim present expenses as well as anticipated future medical expenses. Claims may include costs for surgery, rehabilitation, physical therapy, mental health care, and transportation costs for receiving treatment.
Pain and Suffering
This can be broken down into physical and mental pain and suffering: The pain of your actual physical injuries, as well as the pain and suffering from scarring, disfigurement, and ongoing complications; and the mental pain and suffering, including mental anguish, stress, anxiety, and loss of enjoyment of life.
The law doesn’t set guidelines for exactly how much in damages a seaman should receive for physical or mental pain and suffering. Cases are assessed individually and damages awarded depending on the particular details of a case.
How Long Do I Have to File a Claim?
In most cases, a seaman has three years from the date of the accident or injury to file a Jones Act claim. This is due to the three-year statute of limitations.
However, it’s important that you don’t waste time in contacting a maritime attorney. The sooner you speak to an attorney to assess your case, the sooner your attorney can start preserving important evidence involving your accident that will assist your claim.
Do I Need a Jones Act Attorney?
Many seamen we work with don’t know they are entitled to recover damages and Maintenance and Cure for the injuries or illnesses they come by while working at sea. They might believe they are entitled to the same workers’ compensation that land-based workers can receive, when in fact seamen are entitled to different, more valuable benefits and compensation.
That’s why it’s important to speak to an experienced maritime attorney. We can review the facts of your case and inform you of your rights under the Jones Act.
Maritime attorneys are skilled litigators who understand federal and state maritime laws and international agreements, and have sound judgment when it comes to helping you win your case and getting you the maximum compensation you deserve for your injuries.
Maritime law is a highly skilled and specialized area of law and there aren’t many attorneys who practice in the field as effectively as the attorneys at Montagna Maritime Law. Contact us today for your free case evaluation to discuss your legal options with an experienced maritime attorney.
Free and Confidential Evaluation of Your Case
If you would like to find out more about your legal rights after suffering an injury at work, take advantage of our free consultation. You can learn more about what benefits you may be entitled to and how our experienced maritime attorneys can help. We handle all our cases on a no win, no fee basis, which means you will pay attorney fees only if we are successful in getting you compensation.