Although the Jones Act is designed to protect seamen’s rights, Jones Act claims are different than claims brought under the workers’ compensation or Longshore Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. Federal and state workers’ compensation benefits exclude marine workers; and the Longshore Act protects land-based marine workers, such as dock workers. Unlike these coverages, there is no state or federal agency involved in the administration of a Jones Act claim.
Jones Act Definitions
The Jones Act refers to workers as “seamen,” and places of employment as “vessels,” Both “employers” and “shipowners” can be liable under the Act. To recoup Jones Act benefits, a seaman’s status depends not on the place where the injury occurs but rather on the nature of the seaman’s service, his or her status as a member of a vessel and the vessel’s operation in navigable waters.
A SEAMAN is defined as a member of the crew of a vessel or someone assigned to a vessel. This includes the ship’s captain, officers and crew. In 1995, the United States Supreme Court, in the case of Chandris, Inc., v. Latsis, ruled that any worker who spends more than 30% of his or her time in the service of a vessel on navigable waters qualifies as a seaman under the act. This definition is meant to cover not only the regular crew, but also anyone who is aboard a vessel in which they are regularly employed to perform duties that contribute to a specific vessel’s livelihood or operation for the required amount of time.
A VESSEL refers to structures designed or utilized for transportation of passengers, cargo or equipment from place to place across navigable waters. The term vessel also includes vessels that are not self-propelled, such as floating dormitories.
AN EMPLOYER, including a SHIPOWNER, can be held liable for injuries to seamen if the seaman can prove that the employer or shipowner’s negligence, or the negligence of employees or officers on the vessel played any part in producing the injury or death of the seaman. Shipowners can also be liable if their negligence leads to a vessel being unseaworthy. Lawsuits filed under the Jones Act can include personal injury or wrongful death.
EXCLUDED WORKERS include longshoremen (dock workers), pilots and those who work on fixed platforms. Land-based marine workers may be eligible for injury benefits under the Longshore Act or workers’ compensation. It’s important to note that land-based marine workers do not become seamen because they happen to be working aboard a vessel when they are injured. Conversely, seamen do not lose Jones Act protection where the course of their service to a vessel takes them ashore.
WAGES, MAINTENANCE AND CURE requires the shipowner to pay for the seaman’s medical treatment until maximum medical recovery. The shipowner is also required to provide basic living expenses for the injured seaman until the voyage is complete, even if the injured person is not still on the vessel.
Jones Act Compensation
Determining what compensation a maritime worker is entitled to can be complicated. In order to recover certain benefits under the Jones Act, a worker must be a seaman and prove some negligence or fault on the part of the employer or vessel’s owner. An action against the employer or shipowner under the Act may be brought either in a U.S. federal court or in a state court.
In addition to holding an employer responsible for the negligent acts of its employees and officers, a seaman can also recover benefits from the ship owner if he/she proves that the vessel was unseaworthy and the seaman was injured as a result.
Under the Jones Act, an injured worker can recover the following legal damages:
- Medical expenses (past and future)
- Disfigurement and mental anguish (past and future)
- Pain and suffering
- Wages lost from the time of the injury to the time of trial
- Loss of future earning capacity
- Loss of fringe benefits resulting from any time spent out of the workforce
Complexity of Liability
When the Jones Act was written in 1920, the legislature could not anticipate the changes that would take place in the maritime industry. Since that time, a series of lawsuits and court interpretations have shaped the Jones Act and its scope. Since the benefits provided by the Jones Act can be significantly greater than benefits for workers on land, lawsuits have become commonplace.