Working as a seaman can be a dangerous job with heightened risks of serious injury due to the conditions that these men and women are exposed to on a daily basis. Despite this heightened risk, seamen are excluded from federal or state-based workers’ compensation laws in the case of an injury or illness sustained while working on a vessel. This is what makes the Jones Act so important. 

What is the Jones Act?

The Jones Act provides compensation rights to those that have been injured or developed an illness while working aboard or in connection with a sea vessel. It’s an important maritime federal law that protects seamen who are excluded from land-based laws. Maritime workers typically do not qualify for federal or state-based workers’ compensation after being injured so they are then protected under the Jones Act as long as they meet the following three criteria:

  1. The individual must meet the definition of a “seaman” (more on that later).
  2. The individual must have sustained the injury or developed the illness during his or her employment.
  3. The individual’s injury or illness must result from negligence on the part of his or her employer or another employee.

Who can bring a Jones Act case?

In determining who can bring a case under the Jones Act, you must assess the qualifications of a seaman by determining the duration and nature of the individual’s connection to the vessel. Anyone who works on navigable waters and contributes at least 30% of their work time to the work of the vessel are usually protected under the Jones Act. 

The Act limits protection only to those considered “seamen” which is defined as “an individual (except scientific personnel, a sailing school instructor, or a sailing school student) engaged or employed in any capacity on board a vessel” (46 USC Section 10101(3)). Generally, contract workers, longshoremen, and harbor workers cannot bring Jones Act claims but they can bring legal claims under other maritime laws for the injuries they’ve sustained. 

What injuries are compensable under the Jones Act?

Any injury that is sustained as a result of the negligence of the vessel’s owner or another employee is compensable under the Jones Act as long as the injury occurs during the scope of the seaman’s duty. Injuries sustained not aboard the ship or vessel may also be covered, depending on what the seaman was doing at the time of the injury.

Vessel owners are obligated to maintain the safety of their vessels and any of the equipment on the vessel, especially that which may be used by employees. When someone is injured as a result of a breach in this obligation, the vessel owner is liable for the injury even if their involvement in the injury is minor. 

Negligence Covered Under the Jones Act

It’s important to distinguish that the Jones Act does not provide benefits to seamen who’ve been injured at no fault of anyone else. However, injuries are protected if they are a result of employer negligence. Here are a few common examples of employer negligence:

  • Failure to provide a seaworthy vessel
  • Failure to provide warning signs in hazardous areas of the vessel
  • Failure to repair broken or faulty equipment or parts
  • Failure to provide workers with proper safety gear
  • Failure to ensure vessel decks are equipped with no-skid surfaces
  • Failure to perform regular inspections on equipment and parts
  • Lack of proper safety training prior to allowing seamen to perform duties

Benefits under the Jones Act are covered in four categories: punitive damages (in some circumstances), medical expenses, loss of earnings, and pain and suffering. 

Punitive Damages

In addition to the following types of compensation, seamen may also be eligible for punitive damages in some circumstances. Punitive damages are allowed in Jones Act cases if employers are found to recklessly break their obligation in providing a seaworthy and safe vessel for their employees. In such situations, it must be proven that the vessel owner did, in fact, know that the vessel was not seaworthy and recklessly disregarded the safety hazards resulting in an employee injury. 

Medical Expenses

Under the Jones Act, not only are the present medical expenses of injured seamen covered, but also anticipated future medical expenses, exams, travel expenses to doctor’s appointments, medication, physical therapy, rehabilitation, X-rays, specialized equipment needed to aid in recovery, counseling, mental health treatment, counseling, and more. 

Loss of Earnings

Loss of earnings covers not only present earnings but also loss of earning capacity for the future which includes potential pay raises and occupational advancements and employee benefits including vacation time, 401K, and/or pensions. It’s pretty difficult to calculate that future loss which is why it’s so important that you consult a lawyer with experience with the Jones Act. 

Pain and Suffering

This entails both mental suffering and physical pain. As several factors can play into dictating the compensation amount – the extent and severity of the injuries, the physical pain, and the extent of mental suffering – determining the amount a seaman is entitled to for pain and suffering.

If you have suffered a serious maritime injury either at sea or onshore, contact Montagna Maritime Law for attorneys that will fight for your rights. The track record of our success substantiates our abilities to protect individual rights, no matter what your legal concerns are.


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