Admiralty and Maritime Law

Recovering under the Jones Act

Working at sea can be a dangerous job. The ocean is a powerful and unpredicted force of nature. Many workers suffer injuries on ships and oil rigs operating complicated machinery while braving these waters.

What can a maritime worker do if he's injured while working at sea? What about the families of workers who are killed? On April 20, 2010, an explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig killed 11 people. Is there any form of relief? The federal government passed a law in 1920 to help injured or killed seamen. The law is called the Merchant Marine Act of 1920. It's more commonly known as the Jones Act.

What's the Jones Act?

The Jones Act allows injured seamen to recover money for injuries they receive while working at sea. They're entitled to maintenance and cure regardless of who's at fault. Maintenance is a daily allowance to cover the cost of basic necessities, such as food and shelter. Cure is the medical care that the employer must provide until the worker reaches maximum medical improvement. Injured seamen are also entitled to unearned wages until the end of the voyage.

Damages can also be recovered against the employer. The injured worker must prove that the employer or a co-worker was negligent. Some examples of negligence include:

  • Employer failed to provide a safe work environment
  • Employer failed to adequately train the workers
  • Equipment wasn't adequate for the job
  • Ship wasn't seaworthy

The damage award against an employer for negligence can be very large. This is because the money may cover a wide range of issues. Families of workers killed at sea may also be entitled to expensive damages against the employer. Some examples include:

  • Past and future lost wages
  • Pain and suffering
  • Disability
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Disfigurement
  • Death benefits to families

Who's Covered Under the Jones Act?

A seaman is covered under the Jones Act if he's injured or killed on board a vessel upon a navigable waterway. He must be more or less permanently connected to the vessel and contribute to the work. The term "vessel" includes many different types of watercraft. Some examples include:

  • Fishing boats
  • Tankers
  • Drill barges
  • Tug boats
  • Semi-submersible drilling rigs

There are many different types of workers that are covered under the Jones Act. All of them have the potential of collecting benefits for any injuries they receive while doing their jobs. Some examples include:

  • Oil platform workers
  • Barge workers
  • Cruise ship workers
  • Fishermen
  • Transportation workers

American-Controlled Ships

Another aspect of the Jones Act is the promotion of American ships. The Jones Act applies multiple restrictions on shipping and passenger trade between US ports. Specifically, the ships must be:

  • Constructed in the US
  • Owned by US citizens
  • Crewed by US citizens

Sometimes the US President waives these restrictions in an emergency. President George W. Bush waived the Jones Act restrictions after Hurricane Katrina to receive aid from other countries. Other people have promoted the idea of waiving the Jones Act restrictions to let foreign ships help clean up the oil spill caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • What should I do if I am injured on a ship while doing my job? Who do I contact to recover benefits under the Jones Act?
  • Can I recover benefits for an injury I received while performing on a cruise ship?
  • How do I force my employer to provide maintenance and cure benefits for my injury? Does it matter if the injury was caused by my negligence?
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