Maritime Legislation that Protects You

The United States Congress has passed several laws that protect Americans. Some of the legislation deals with protecting American workers who become ill or endure injuries while working on a vessel in open water.

Merchant Marine Act of 1920

Also referred to as the Jones Act, the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 includes provisions that allow eligible seaman to receive compensation for injuries and/or illnesses suffered during stints working on board ships at sea. Claims of employer negligence at sea require the expertise of a licensed maritime law attorney. This Act has undergone a couple of revisions to account for changes in maritime merchant technology.

What is a Seaman?

Under the legal language of the Jones Act, not everyone meets the standards set for the definition of a seaman. Although the law refers to the term “seaman,” it does not clearly define the meaning of the term. It has taken nearly 100 years of federal court rulings to create a legal precedent that defines the meaning of a seaman. As of 2017, a seaman represents a worker who performs job functions on board a ship that moves through navigable water sources. The work performed that is covered under the Act must be for the mission of the ship in question.

Federal court rulings have repeatedly stated a seaman must spend a substantial amount of time on board a vessel that engages in commercial activity. One of the court rulings set the on board minimum time at 30%.

Filling the Workers Compensation Void

Until the passage of the Jones Act, maritime workers did not enjoy the same protections land-based workers had through workers compensation coverage. The Merchant Marine Act of 1920 gave seaman a legal method to receive compensation for injuries and illnesses caused by employer negligence. Federal courts have defined employer negligence to encompass working in unsafe conditions or asking employees to take unreasonable risks. Lawsuits filed under this Act not only compensate seaman, but the lawsuits also deter employers from putting employees in unsafe working conditions.

When the Ship is the Problem

The Jones legislation contains clear legal provisions that protect workers from injuries and illnesses caused by poor vessel design and construction. Negligence in the case of poorly constructed vessels falls within the “unseaworthiness” doctrine of American law. The builder of the vessel assumes complete legal responsibility for seaman safety.

Death on the High Seas Act

The United States Congress passed the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) to protect the surviving members of a family that lost a loved one. A spouse, child, or dependent family member has the legal recourse to recover financial damages for the death of seaman that occurs in international waters. International waters begin 12 nautical miles from American shorelines. The law has gained publicity over the past ten years because of the rise of pirate violence on international waters.

Contact a licensed attorney who specializes in maritime law to see if you have a case covered by maritime legislation.

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