Who is a Jones Act Seaman?

Originally referred to as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, the Jones Act represents a federal law that protects employees from the United States who sustain injuries during work projects performed at sea. The federal law allows maritime employees to receive compensation for work-related injuries and illnesses. Congress passed the legislation to cover workers who are not qualified to file for workers’ compensation under the maritime law.

The law often includes the term “Merchant Marine,” which defines the fleet of commercial ships that deliver products manufactured in other countries into the U.S. This usually has nothing to do with the U.S. military unless the government commissions commercial ships to deliver troops and supplies during a formally declared war.

Who Qualifies?

Federal does not cover every employee who works at sea or along an open body of water. The nearly 100-year law consistently refers to the term “Seaman,” but the definition has been left to the United States judicial system to decide. Thus, the answer to “who is a Jones Act seaman?” is molded by years of judicial precedent. Maritime employment attorneys examine court decisions to decide whether a client qualifies as a seaman under the Act of 1920.

Federal Court Rulings

The majority of federal court rulings have defined the term seaman to mean an employee who works on a sea vessel or fleet that floats in areas of water that the U.S. uses to conduct interstate and foreign business transactions. A worker on a merchant marine ship must produce work that relates to the purpose of the commercial goals of the sea vessel. The job description for the employee does not matter; the actual work performed is what usually constitutes an eligible employee under the Jones Act.

Federal courts have issued a wide variety of rulings that set the percentage of time an employee has to work to fulfill the purpose of a sea vessel. A federal court ruling that set the amount of time a worker has to perform vessel-related work at 30% remains the standard for most federal court rulings that answer the question asked earlier.

Legal Teeth for the Federal Employment Law

The Act of 1920 mandates that maritime employers must create a reasonably safe environment for employees to perform vessel-related work. Ship leadership, such as the captain, owns the legally liable for the negligence that causes an employee to suffer an illness or injury. Causes of maritime negligence include the improper training of the ship crew, as well as equipment that receives little or no maintenance. Slippery substances left on a ship deck can cause serious injuries because of hard falls. Failure to provide the right equipment to perform a job responsibility also falls within the legal purview of the federal law. The most obvious, yet least reported cause of a sea-related injury involves the assault perpetrated by one crew member on another crew member.

Even the failure to set down a “Caution” sign in front of a slippery section of a ship deck can lead to charges filed under the Merchant Marine Act of 1920. Workers who spend considerable time at sea working on a commercial vessel can sue for an illness or injury caused by negligence. Consult with a licensed employment law attorney to determine whether you have a case covered by the Jones Act.

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