What Is the Jones Act?

What Is the Jones Act? If you are an oil worker, harbor worker, longshore worker, or seamen by trade, you should be familiar with the Jones Act. This law provides benefits in certain situations involving job-related injuries and illnesses. Jones Act claims can be more complicated than other workers' compensation claims that fall under state law. Anyone who believes they might have a Jones Act claim should reach out to an experienced Jones Act lawyer as soon as possible. With the right attorney in your corner, you can understand your rights under the law. You can focus on your physical recovery while your lawyer handles every step of the complex claim process. Read on to learn more about the Jones Act, and contact a jones act attorney right away if you have an injury or benefit-related concerns.

Brief Overview of the Jones Act

Lawyer for Jones Act and Claim ProcessThe Jones Act is a federal law covering maritime commerce in the United States. The Jones Act demands goods shipped between U.S. ports to be on ships constructed, owned, and used by U.S. citizens or permanent residents. The Jones Act is Section 27 of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, which provided for the maintenance of the American merchant marine. The Jones Act is a 1920 statute requiring that goods shipped from one American port to another be transported on a ship American-built, American-owned, and crewed by U.S. citizens or permanent residents. The Jones Act is the name of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, whose introductory author was Sen. Wesley Jones of Washington. The legislation’s goal was to ensure the existence of a thriving U.S.-owned commercial shipping industry. This subject had become salient during World War I when blockades highlighted the close link between maritime commerce and warfare. One section of the law demands goods transported by ship from one U.S. destination to another on U.S.-flagged ships constructed in the United States, owned by U.S. citizens, and crewed by U.S. legal permanent residents and citizens. In case of war, there should be an ample supply of American-made, American-owned, American-crewed ships that can supply American commerce even in hazardous conditions.

The Jones Act and Sea Compensation

If you suffered harm while doing maritime work, you might recover compensation for your injuries under federal laws created to defend you. The Jones Act and the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA) protect maritime workers who suffer injuries. Nevertheless, the laws are mutually exclusive, so if you qualify for one, you will not qualify for the other. The Jones Act provides that maritime workers on sea vessels can seek compensation for injuries acquired at sea. This law covers fishers, sailors, and cruise ship employees, but what about oil rig workers? The CDC reports that the oil and gas industry in the U.S. had a death rate seven times higher than other industries. During this period, 128 employees perished on offshore oil rigs. Can injured employees or the families of workers killed at sea seek compensation from the rig’s owners? Coverage of oil rig workers under the Jones Act largely hinges on the type of rig they labor on. If the job site is a jack-up rig or some other mobile vessel, the Jones Act will often cover offshore injuries, as the rig might be a “sea-going vessel.” To be a “seaman” under the Jones Act, a worker must spend more than 30 percent of their time in the service of a vessel on navigable waters. Nearly all rig workers fall under this class, as they often labor long hours, and any labor on the rig, whether drilling or maintaining it, will be in the service of a vessel.

Which Workers Can File a Claim Under the Act?

The Jones Act and the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) is a federal statute that gives workers’ compensation benefits to maritime workers who are not seamen and not qualified for other workers' compensation. It applies to laborers on navigable waters and those hurt on docks, terminals, harbors, piers, and dry dock facilities. Longshoremen, harbor laborers, and shipbuilders can have coverage under the Act. The LHWCA is comparable to a state no-fault workers’ compensation law in that a worker does not have to establish fault to be entitled to benefits. The Jones Act applies to workers hurt during their employment. The course of employment may vary depending on if a worker is a "blue water seaman" who sleeps on the vessel or a "brown water seaman" who goes home every night. The Jones Act covers a blue water seaman if the injury happens on shore while on leave or even when traveling to or from work. Brown water claims are much more common today with the increase in offshore drilling.

Do All Maritime Employees have Coverage Under the Jones Act?

The Jones Act does not protect all workers. All maritime workers have legal rights, but not all can access workers' compensation or other benefits through the Act. The worker must be a "seaman" as defined by the law to qualify for a claim. Eligible seaman injured due to the negligence of a Jones Act vessel owner, employer, or coworker can file a claim for damages.

Definition of a Seaman

Per the Jones Act, a seaman is any crew member who:
  • Contributes to the vessel’s mission.
  • Spends most of their time working on a vessel that is in navigation, which can mean moving or afloat on navigable waters.
  • Spends at least 30 percent of working hours on the vessel.

Employee’s Work Must Contribute to the Vessel

Although contract employees and part-time maritime employees contribute to work on the vessel, this characteristic alone is not enough to define such laborers as seamen.​

They Must Be on Board When the Ship Is in Operation

Some laborers whose employers run seafaring ships may not contribute to a vessel’s functions or go out to sea on the boat. Their injuries likely will not fall under the Jones Act.​

They Must Spend a Significant Amount of Time Working on the Vessel

To be deemed a seaman, a maritime employee must spend significant time working on the ship. Nevertheless, this number can be subjective. In other words, specific circumstances can authorize a maritime laborer to satisfy this requirement even if they do not spend the required 30 percent of their time on board a single vessel.​

What Vessels Have Coverage Under the Jones Act?

1 U.S. Code § 3 defines a Jones Act vessel as “every description of watercraft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water.” United States citizens or permanent residents must own, construct, or operate Jones Act vessels. The Jones Act only covers navigable vessels. This doesn't mean that it must be out at sea, nor does it not need to self-propel, but it must be capable of movement. A fishing ship or a dredge towed from one place to the next will qualify as a Jones Act vessel. Here are some water vessels that the Jones Act may govern:
  • Tugboats
  • Cargo ships
  • Passenger ferries
  • Dredges and pontoon rafts
  • Commercial fishing boats
  • Oceangoing ships
  • Dredgers
  • Drilling Ships
  • Commercial fishing boats
  • Semi-submersible rigs

Legal Options for Maritime Workers

If you are a maritime worker, your job is significantly different from most jobs on land, from your work hours to your tasks while on board the vessel. You may go from land to harbor to open water often, making it hard to decide if local laws apply. Maritime laborers do not fall under the same employment laws as most other employees. Rather, the federal government has distinct laws to provide for the rights of all maritime employees, including contractors, part-time laborers, and full-time crew members. The Jones Act and comparable laws aim to provide maritime laborers with the assistance they need after a workplace injury. When accidents lead to time missed from work, lost wages, medical costs, and other expenses and losses, these laws help workers to:
  • Pay for medical treatment.
  • Take time off from work to recover.
  • Continue supporting their homes and families until they can go back to work.
The laws for maritime workers can be complicated, and you may not know whether you have rights under the Jones Act, the LHWCA, or another statute. When filing your claim, working with a maritime injury attorney can help ensure that you do so accurately.

The Process of Filing a Claim

  • Report your injury instantly to the captain, your employer, or a senior officer: Federal Maritime Law permits you seven days from the date of the accident to report the injury. Do not remain on duty before reporting the incident because the vessel’s insurer may think you were not hurt enough to receive compensation.
  • Seek medical help immediately: Save proof of any medications or diagnostic tests you take. Even if it is a small injury, have a physician or medical personnel examine you to record it as medical proof.
  • Ensure that the captain enters it into the ship's log when you report the injury. Also, understand that the captain or your employer is lawfully obligated to file a report using form CG-2692.
  • When your employer provides an accident report, make sure to fill it out ASAP: Try to be as detailed and correct as possible in the form, particularly when filling out the section about who caused the accident. If you are unsure about the at-fault party, pursue legal representation now.
If your employer’s insurance tries to make you give any written statements after receiving the CG-2692, or if you feel forced into signing any forms that you do not want to, consult an attorney now to safeguard your rights to payment. Know that insurance is like just another profit-driven company. Their objective is to undervalue the value of your claim as much as possible. A maritime accident lawyer will examine all the proof in the form of medical documents, accident reports, and witness statements to make your claim as robust and airtight as possible.

Proving Negligence in a Jones Act Claim

One key difference between Jones Act claims and state workers’ compensation claims is that injured seamen must prove negligence to obtain Jones Act benefits. Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system - meaning a worker can receive benefits even if they caused the accident (in most cases). Under the Jones Act, however, a claimant must prove that someone relating to the employer was negligent and caused their injuries. Negligent parties might include:
  • The vessel’s owner
  • The captain of the vessel
  • Crew members of the vessel
  • Another party related to the vessel or employer
Some examples of negligence that might qualify a worker for benefits include:
  • Having a slippery deck, possibly due to unaddressed oil on the deck
  • Equipment malfunctions due to poor maintenance
  • Not providing the crew with proper training or equipment
  • Other crew members who violate safety procedures or rules
  • Unsafe work instructions or orders
  • Any other unsafe conditions that helped lead to the accident and injury
There is a lower burden for JonesAct claimants to prove negligence than in typical personal injury cases. An injured worker must show that the employer’s negligence played any part - even a small one - in causing the injuries. This is less stringent than showing that negligence was the proximate cause of an injury, but proving negligence at all can be difficult, especially for someone dealing with injuries and no legal background. While the Jones Act is generally employee-friendly, the law still requires a showing of negligence by the injured worker, which makes the process more complicated. Your Jones Act lawyer can investigate the cause of your injuries and gather evidence to prove negligence when possible. Leave your claim to a skilled professional so you can concentrate on recovering physically from your injuries.


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