Jones Act Claims – Overview Page

The Jones Act, also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, was enacted with the primary intention of protecting U.S. ships from competitors in foreign nations. Aside from forbidding non-U.S. owned vessels and those owned by its interests from transporting cargo between domestic ports, it also extends rights to seamen injured on the job.

Filing a Jones Act Claim

An injured seaman can bring a civil action against their employer, under Title 46 of U.S Code §30104. The right to bring legal action, and pursue a trial by jury, is granted if a crew member is hurt or dies from an injury sustained during their employment. The statute applies even if the employer is found to have been negligent. To file a claim, one must:

Fit the definition of a seaman: The Act itself does not offer a detailed definition of the word; rather, maritime attorneys use past court decisions to determine eligibility. In federal court, the concept typically applies to anyone who works on a vessel that navigates waterways used for interstate or foreign commerce and contributes to its mission and purpose. Also, a general rule of the employee spending at least 30 percent of their time aboard the vessel is often applied, but not always a determining factor.

Prove negligence occurred: An injured worker needs to convince a jury their employer or a co-worker took risks that were unreasonable, and that caused their injury. Compensation is often determined by the wrongfulness of the conduct. However, even if the injured employee’s negligence contributed in part to the injury, the person may be eligible to recover damages. Economic damages compensating for lost wages and medical expenses, and non-economic compensation for pain and suffering may be awarded.

Unseaworthiness is another claim that can be made. Considered part of common law, it applies to the condition of a vessel. If poorly maintained equipment causes an injury, the person may have an additional claim to bring forth.

Maintenance and Cure: Understanding and Protecting Your Rights

The Jones Act includes a doctrine that calls for a policy provisioning medical care and treatment while they are healing or ill. First, the individual must prove their condition is related to their job duties. The conduct of an employer does not apply. A claim does not have to be filed for maintenance and cure to be used. If a seaman can prove an injury or illness occurred onboard a ship, while they were employed, they may have the right to be compensated for medical and living expenses. These must be paid while they heal.

Punitive Damages Explained

Punitive damages against an employer include compensation for other than medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. More an assessment against the employer, these are not intended as a reward, but to deter a defendant from engaging in similar conduct or negligence again. They can apply to a maritime injury especially if an employer fails to provide maintenance and cure benefits.

Prior to Atlantic Sounding Co. vs. Townsend, a landmark Supreme Court decision in 2009, punitive damages associated with Jones Act settlements were rare. One who is denied benefits during recovery, therefore, has more power to seek damages. The law continues to require employers to provide maintenance and cure benefits. Disregarding this obligation now opens the door for a victim of an injury to seek punitive damages through the law.

Workers’ Compensation vs. the Jones Act

Even if an employer’s negligence is found to have contributed to their injury, the injured person is still protected under the law. Workers’ compensation statutes, issued by states, mostly prohibit lawsuits to against companies if their negligence resulted in an employee’s injury.

The law also differs from workers’ compensation in that the individual can recover all wages lost. Workers’ comp covers medical bills (as does the Act) and disability benefits if one needs time off. Further benefits allowed by the Act include pain and suffering and future lost income and medical expenses. Payments may be issued until it’s determined further treatment won’t improve an individual’s condition. These also cease when one can begin working again.

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