Filing A Jones Act Claim

Passed in 1920, the Jones Act provides injured seamen with rights to compensation and treatment after being injured or becoming ill on the job, onboard a vessel. Protections are made available through a provision of the overall law, which restricts the transport of marine cargo to only U.S. built and owned vessels. The Longshore Harbor and Workers’ Compensation Act has a one-year statute of limitations. By contrast, this Act allows three years for a personal injury claim to be made, from the discovery of the impacts of a previous incident on the water.

Filing Process

Any injury or illness should be reported to the ship captain if it involves a crew member working on a vessel. If the issue is determined to be an emergency, it is the captain’s duty to record it in the ship’s log and to complete a Report of Marine Accident, Injury or Death form. Per the instructions on the form, it should be sent to a Coast Guard Marine Safety or Marine Inspection Office closest to where the incident occurred, or the office that is closest to the port of arrival.

Under the Jones Act, recorded statements are not required. Employers and ship owners, however, may urge workers to submit such a statement with their legal interests in mind. Doing so can unwillingly erase the liability of the employer. Injured workers should, therefore, decline to record any statements. Accident reports are not required either, but filling one out may be beneficial, plus there is the time to consider what information is included on the form. An injured maritime worker who didn’t fill out an accident report is still eligible to file a claim.

Who Is Covered?

Seamen working on a sea-faring vessel aren’t the only individuals covered under the Act. Vessel officers are covered as well, as are technicians and oil workers. Harbor/helicopter pilots, barge and tugboat workers, and other employees who are injured on the water or near a maritime operation can seek damages. Maritime law is quite different from state workers’ compensation laws, and settlements are generally higher too.

The law requires the person to be employed on a boat “in navigation,” a legal term meaning the vessel is afloat, operating, and in a condition to move under its own power on navigable waters, which include oceans and traversable lakes that cross state lines and are accessible via rivers. However, it doesn’t need to be at sea during an accident for protections to apply. The vessel could be docked but on the water, so long as it can be sailed or navigated with no outside assistance. An oil drilling platform, newly built vessel undergoing sea trials, or floating casino barges are not considered in navigation per the law, but the situational and legal circumstances surrounding an injury or illness can determine whether damages may be awarded.

Also, the seaman must contribute to the vessel’s mission, and spend enough time on an employer’s vessel or fleet to qualify under the Act. Generally, this is at least 30 percent of their employment time.

Types of Damages

Seamen injured on the job can file a claim for their injury, similar to when a workers’ compensation claim is filed. If one can prove the injury was directly related to work, due to negligence or an employer’s carelessness or recklessness, they may be compensated for pain and suffering, lost current/future earnings, current/future medical bills, and even loss of quality of life.

Filing a Jones Act claim also affords one maintenance and cure benefits. With or without a claim under the Act, one may be compensated for their medical bills and treatment until they are considered cured. It is separate from a general claim under the law, so benefits can be provided even if an employer’s negligence was not a factor. The seaman must only prove they become injured or sick while onboard a vessel.

Nonetheless, Jones Act claims can be quite complex. Navigating the process requires expert legal help, but an injured maritime worker can be awarded substantial damages for medical costs, time off, and other factors following an injury, illness, or other incident aboard a seafaring vessel.

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