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a graphic with manilla folders, a gavel, and a piece of paper with Jones Act as the title

What is the Jones Act?

With extensive coasts on the Gulf of Mexico, it is no surprise that both Louisiana and Texas have an extensive offshore workforce. However, what happens when these seafarers get injured? Unlike workers in most occupations, workers in the maritime industry have a dedicated type of claim available to them. Below, we’ll cover some of the most frequently asked questions about the Jones Act and what it means for maritime injury claims. 

What Is the Jones Act?

The Jones Act, officially known as The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, was enacted to encourage the development of a strong U.S. Merchant Marine for the dual purposes of financial security and national defense.  Among other provisions, it allows maritime workers to file claims against their employers. Since offshore accidents are common and can be severe, this federal law seeks to protect maritime workers from “unseaworthy” vessels by allowing them to recover compensation for workplace injuries directly from the employer. 

What Is a Jones Act Claim?

A Jones Act claim is different from regular workers’ compensation claims. In most industries, workers are only able to recover compensation from the company’s workers’ compensation insurance. This means that workers cannot sue their company for damages. However, employees in industries that fall under the Jones Act can hold their employer responsible for negligence. 

Jones Act claims work like most other personal injury cases. The victim must show that they were injured due to the negligence of a third party in order to seek compensation. In a Jones Act claim, the victim is the employee, and the third party is the employer. So, the employee needs to show that they were injured as a direct result of the employer’s negligence, like failing to provide adequate maintenance to the vessel, ignoring safety protocols, or providing faulty equipment. If the employer is found responsible, they will have to compensate the injured worker for damages.

Who Is Covered by the Jones Act?

To be covered under the Jones Act, you must be a “seaman” who contributes to the operation of a vessel. The vessel has to be “in navigation” for the worker to be considered a seaman. This does not mean that the vessel has to be moving when the accident took place, but rather that it has to be in active operation. Because of this, most land-based workers are not covered by the Jones Act, even if they work in the maritime industry. In general, a worker has to spend at least 30% of their time working on a vessel to be covered by the Jones Act.

Workers do not need to actively contribute to the navigation or steering of the vessel to be covered under the Jones Act. In fact, almost all workers aboard the vessel will qualify. Some of the most common types of workers covered by the Jones Act include:

  • Crew members
  • Captain
  • Cooks
  • Electricians
  • Deckhands
  • Entertainers
  • Phone operators

However, identifying Jones Act eligibility can be complex. Speaking with an offshore accident attorney can help you figure out if you are covered by this law. 

What Types of Injuries Are Covered by the Jones Act?

Almost all injuries resulting from the negligence of the employer are covered by the Jones Act. If you meet the eligibility criteria to be considered a seaman under the Jones Act, then you may recover compensation for virtually any injury that you incurred on the job. Some of the most common types of injuries covered by the Jones Act include:

How Long Do You Have To Make a Jones Act Claim?

Seamen have a three-year statute of limitations to file claims under the Jones Act. The time starts from the date the injury happened or when it was discovered. It is extremely important to file the case during this timeframe, as failure to do so would result in forfeiting the right to seek compensation.

How Is Negligence Established in the Jones Act?

As in other personal injury cases, plaintiffs seeking compensation under the Jones Act must show that the defendant’s negligence caused their injuries. You may show that your workplace breached its duty of care by:

  • Failing to provide adequate crew training
  • Neglecting the maintenance of the vessel or workplace equipment
  • Providing insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Operating the vessel with insufficient crew

What Damages Are Available in a Jones Act Claim?

A successful Jones Act claim will recover compensation for all damages, including economic and noneconomic damages. Some of the most common damages available include:

  • Current and future medical expenses
  • Pain and suffering
  • Disfigurement
  • Lost wages
  • Loss of future earning capacity
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Mental anguish

In extremely egregious cases, the court may also award punitive damages to the defendant as a way to punish the workplace for wanton behavior. However, these types of damages are rare.

Can I Get Fired for Filing a Jones Act Claim?

It is illegal for employers to retaliate against employees for seeking compensation under the Jones Act. If your employer fires, demotes, or otherwise punishes you for seeking compensation, then they might be breaking the law. If that’s the case, you may have another case against your employer for unjust retaliation.

Do I Need a Lawyer To Handle My Jones Act Claim?

There is no law requiring plaintiffs to retain an attorney to handle a Jones Act claim. However, Jones Act claims can be extremely complicated as most employers will retain the services of an experienced law firm to defend them and deny any wrongdoing. This could result in losing your case or earning only a small fraction of the available damages. 

Hiring a personal injury attorney to help with your Jones Act claim can be a financially sound decision. Not only will the attorney handle everything on your behalf so you can focus on getting better, but they will find a way to maximize your award or settlement by pursuing compensation for all available damages. This can result in a larger final compensation amount, even after accounting for all attorney and legal fees.

SOURCES:

Morris & Dewett provides this information to the public for general education and interest. The firm does not represent clients in every topic discussed in answers to frequent questions. The information is curated and produced based on questions commonly asked or search terms commonly used. Every effort is made to provide accurate information. Do not make any decision solely based on the information provided, please seek relevant counsel for each topic area. Consult an attorney before making any legal decision, consult a doctor before making any medical decision, and consult a financial advisor before making any fiscal decision. Information provided is not legal advice. If you have any legal needs, please do not hesitate to contact us. We are pleased to assist you.

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