Understanding the Impact of The Jones Act
The Jones Act was a significant piece of American legislation that was passed in 1920. It supported the American Merchant Marine and also provided additional protections for sailors and a ship’s crew members. The Jones Act and the benefits it provides are extremely complex, and mariners who are eligible for claims under this Act should consult a lawyer who is familiar with the Act.
The Jones Act allows certain offshore workers to make a claim or file a lawsuit directly against his or her employer. This means that unlike a land based worker who is covered by worker’s compensation, you may sue your employer and collect money damages for any of your employer’s negligence or the negligence of a co-worker that caused your injury.
Qualifications to be Considered a Jones Act Seaman
To qualify as a Jones Act seaman, you must meet certain legal requirements which include being assigned to a vessel in navigation and your work must substantially contribute to the mission of the vessel to which you were assigned. These preliminary requirements are sometimes relaxed depending on person’s job title and duties (e.g. the test for a commercial diver to qualify as a Jones Act seaman is different than a tender on a vessel).
Given the fact specific inquiry, it is important that you consult with an offshore injury lawyer that understands maritime law and the differences that exist for the different types of offshore workers.
The History of The Jones Act
The Jones Act was officially titled the Merchant Marine Act of 1920; however, it became known and recognized as the Jones Act after the man who sponsored it, Senator Wesley Jones. The act was passed in response to concerns about the health of the Merchant Marine, and to establish protections for sailors.
Prior to passage of the Jones Act, sailors injured on the job had few options for recovering damages available to them. Recognizing the danger of working at sea, and the value of trained seamen, the Jones Act established a system of benefits for sailors.
There are two parts to the Jones Act that are of particular historical significance. The first part heavily promoted American owned ships. This was accomplished by restricting shipping and passenger trade within the U.S. to American owned ships, and dictated that 75% of a ship’s crew members must consist of American citizens.
In addition to this, the use of foreign parts and labor was also heavily restricted. This section of the Jones Act was intended to create a strong and fully staffed Merchant Marine which could appropriately serve the U.S. during times of peace and war.
The second significant part of the Jones Act created benefits for sailors which are very far reaching. Any sailor who is injured at sea is entitled to maintenance and cure. This means that the sailor’s employer is required to pay him or her a daily stipend and provided medical care to treat the injury. In addition, sailors also have the ability to sue for damages in the event that their injuries were caused by negligence on behalf of the ship’s owners or crew members. These damages include death benefits whenever there is a case where a sailor is killed on the job.
Any maritime worker who spends at least 30% of their time in active service on a vessel in navigation qualifies as a Jones Act seaman. This includes everyone from the Captain on down. The benefits and legal protections afforded by the Jones Act are significant and it is important to hire an attorney that understands this aspect of maritime law and how it applies to those individuals working offshore.
Assuming you, your loved one or a friend qualifies as a Jones Act seaman, a special set of rules apply to the case. First, under the Jones Act you can hold your employer responsible for your injury if you can prove that your employer or a co-worker’s carelessness cased or in any way contributed to your injury. This can be shown by presenting evidence that your employer did or failed to do something that it should have done. Some examples would be if your employer failed to provide you with safe equipment or failed to hire a competent crew.
If you can show that your employer is at fault for your injury, you still must deal with what is known as “comparative fault.” This is where your employer tries to blame you for your injury by saying that you should not have done something or you should have done something differently. This doctrine is one of the primary reasons that employers try to blame the injured worker.
Your employer usually tries to lay the ground work for this defense at the outset of the claim by getting you to give a recorded statement. If your employer tries to make you give a recorded statement, you should ask to give a written statement instead so you can think about what occurred and be as accurate and comprehensive as possible in terms of what happened, why it happened, who saw what happened and what could have been done to prevent the injury.
Oftentimes employers will want you to give a recorded statement at the doctor’s office or hospital when you are still dealing with the affects of the injury or trauma so you will not be as comprehensive and thoughtful as you need to be regarding what occurred. You should tell your employer that you are happy to assist with the investigation, but you need time to consider all that occurred and you will give a written statement once you have had time to recuperate.
Some of the common types of injuries that are governed by the Jones Act are:
- Neck and back strains from heavy lifting along with herniated disks;
- Toxic chemical exposure from products on chemical ship;
- Exposure to lead paint, solvents and hazardous chemical;
- Decompression and mixed gas errors and injuries to divers diving in unsafe depths;
- Amputations, paralysis, head injuries and serious personal injuries including deaths from falling objects, cargo, lines and equipment.;
- Assaults and rapes by other crewmembers;
- Auto related mishaps while on duty;
- Medical negligence by the ship’s doctor or other medical personnel treating injured seaman;
- Accidents due to poor weather;
- Falls and injuries from oily or slippery substances on walkways, decks of ships and barges;
- Line and rigging accidents;
- Injuries due to poorly maintained, broken or malfunctioning winches;
- Falls from dimly lit or obstructed walkways;
- Unsafe personnel transfers;
- Burns and electrocutions from defective and unsafe machinery or equipment; and
- Drowning deaths due to lack of railing and negligent life saving and rescue techniques
Our experienced maritime and offshore injury lawyers can also help you get the maintenance and cure you are entitled to receive. Maintenance and cure is supposed to help a seaman with food and lodging when he becomes sick or injured while working in service of the ship. Maintenance includes the seaman’s living expenses and cure relates to the payment of medical or therapeutic treatment.
A seaman’s right to these payments continues until he reaches “maximum medical recovery.” This simply means that it appears that further medical treatment will not make you any better. Unfortunately, many employers fail to comply with this obligation or pay an amount of maintenance that is insufficient under the law. Our Jones Act lawyers can help you hold your employer accountable and make sure that the maintenance and cure you receive is fair under the law.