Exploring A Jones Act Negligence Claim

The Jones Act governs American maritime commerce, including providing protections for maritime workers who are injured while working on qualified vessels. In order to bring a Jones Act claim against your maritime employer, you must be able to prove three things:

  • You are a qualified seaman;
  • Your employer was negligent; and
  • That negligence caused your injury or illness.

At the very basic level, to qualify as a seaman under the act, you must be assigned to a qualified vessel for at least 30 percent of your time, holding a job that is related to the function or mission of the vessel. We talk about what it means to be a qualified seaman in-depth in other articles on our site. For our purposes here, let’s assume you are a qualified seaman who has been injured on your ocean-going vessel. The next step is determining whether your employer was actually negligent.

What is Negligence Under the Act?

Under the act, negligence is defined as failing to use reasonable care. What is reasonable care? Well, it is the level of care that a “reasonably prudent person” would utilize in similar situations in order to avoid causing injury to themselves and others. This means that, for instance, a reasonably prudent captain would not advance at full throttle through a busy channel in the fog; if your captain did so and collided with another vessel, causing injury to both vessels and crew, your captain would not be acting as a reasonable person would in that circumstance.

Proving That Negligence Caused Your Injury

The act causation standard is far lower than that of ordinary negligence claims. For you to prevail on a Jones Act negligence claim, you would only have to show that your employer’s negligence, regardless of how egregious, played a part in your injury. Let’s say that you were injured when you slipped on an oil-slicked stairwell. The second mate knew about the oil and decided to wait until after breakfast to clean it. You slipped and fell down the stairs before the oil was cleaned.

Even though it was technically the second mate’s job to clean the oil, it was your employer’s failure to hire competent crew that caused your injury. You can show that his failure, combined with the second mate’s lack of action caused your injury. This negligence standard is often referred to as the “featherweight causation standard” and enables seamen to easily pass summary judgment with minimal evidence of causation.

Ship Owners Have an Absolute Duty to Provide a Seaworthy Crew and Vessel

Every shipowner carries this responsibility to provide a seaworthy vessel and crew. We’ll talk about claims of seaworthiness in more detail in another article, but this concept is important to consider now because it is the ultimate duty of the shipowner to provide competent crew. The scenario we talked about above implicates the employer; such a negligence claim can ultimately be brought against both the employer and the ship owner if they are two different entities.

Bringing it All Together

To prevail in a Jones Act negligence case, you must be able to prove the following:

  • You are a qualified seaman
  • Your vessel is a qualified vessel
  • You were injured while working on the vessel
  • Your employer was negligent in performing its’ duties
  • Your injuries were caused, in some part, by your employer’s negligence

Remember, if you are injured while working on a vessel at sea, report the injury immediately and do your best to preserve any evidence you can, including statements from any of your crew that witnessed the accident that caused you injuries.

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