Jones Act Law – Tour Boat Accidents

Tour boat accidents are not uncommon, and when they do happen, they can be disastrous. Case in point: the 2003 New York Staten Island ferry accident that led to the death of 11 people and injured dozens of others. Sadly, in many such accidents, it is the negligence or recklessness of a single a ship owner or operator that leads to the death or injury of others. In the Staten Island ferry accident, the captain had taken over-the-counter painkillers that made him drowsy and incapable of properly operating the ferry.

When boat owners or captains fail to take reasonable precaution or adhere to set standards of maritime practice, compromising the safety of everyone on board, they can and should be held responsible for all injuries and damages arising as a result.  While state and federal maritime laws provide a path to recourse for injured passengers in tour boat accidents, the Jones Act provides a path to compensation for seamen or crew members injured while working on a tour boat in navigable waters. 

The Jones Act

The Jones Act was enacted in 1920 to give injured seamen a path to sue their employers for injuries sustained on vessels such as ferries, cargo ships, tankers and fishing boats. According to the law, a seaman is any person who spends more than thirty percent of their time working on a qualifying vessel. It includes the captain, operators, crew members, engineers and any other person whose work impacts the mission of the vessel.  The Act covers vessel that can carry passengers or cargo over navigable waters.

Responsibilities of Tour Boat Owners

The Act requires a boat owner to provide seamen with reasonably safe working conditions and also to ensure the vessels used are in reasonably safe working condition. This includes:

  • Inspecting the vessels for leaks
  • Inspecting the vessels for mechanical problems before undertaking a voyage
  • Maintaining equipment including engines, winches, pulleys and sails
  • Providing required safety and flotation equipment for passengers and crew members in case of an accident

In addition, the law requires the boat captain to provide passengers and crew members with reasonably safe transport. The captain is required to:

  • Navigate the ship while alert, without engaging in negligent or reckless acts such as speeding or taking unnecessarily sharp turns
  • Navigate the ship safely, paying close attention to maritime law
  • Ensure the vessel is adequately staffed for the voyage
  • Ensure the crew is properly trained to maintain and operate the vessel
  • Avoid taking more passengers than the vessel can support
  • Avoid overloading the vessel with cargo

How the Jones Act Protects Maritime Workers

The Act extends liability laws enjoyed by mainland workers to maritime workers. Through the Act, crew members injured during a voyage as a result of the negligence of a ship owner or captain can sue their employer, the ship owner or captain for damages covering their medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering.

Additional damages for non-monetary losses can be sought by family members of a deceased who died in an accident as a result of the negligence of a tour boat owner or captain.

If poor oversight by government agencies played a role in the accident, say a local municipality failed to inspect the vessel or issued a license improperly, an injured crew member may be able to bring a case against that agency as well.

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