Your Rights As A Seaman Under the Jones Act

Seamen are protected by a unique set of laws enshrined in the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, also called the Jones Act. The Act envisions seamen to include any man or woman who serves as a captain, marine officer, crew member, engineer, deckhand, dredge worker, barge tenderer or in any other capacity aboard a ship, ferry, riverboat, crew boat, tug, barge, water taxi or shipping boat.

The Act was originally established to protect American shipping companies from foreign competition and to provide seamen with protection for injuries sustained in the course of their employment.

Rights of Jones Act Seamen

Direct Negligence Claims Against Employer

As a seaman, you face numerous dangers in your line of work. Whenever an injury is caused by the negligence of a co-worker or captain, the Act entitles you to certain remedies. First of all, you can file a claim against your employer for past, and future medical expenses lost wages and lost earnings.

Sometimes, the injuries incurred are so severe that they are debilitating, rendering you incapable of resuming maritime work. In such an instance, you can claim compensation to cover retraining expenses to learn a new income-earning skill.

The right to sue an employer for injuries sustained while working on a vessel is available to every seaman working on the vessel equally. The Jones Act does not discriminate between maritime workers. Deckhands have the same rights as captains and engineers. Likewise, any of them can sue the employer whether the injury was caused by the negligence of a crew member or captain.

Maintenance & Cure

In addition to a claim for negligence, if you are injured in the course of working aboard a vessel, you have a right to receive maintenance and cure benefits to cover living and medical expenses.

Maintenance benefits cover your living expenses for basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. Shelter includes rent, mortgage payments, and property taxes. Cure benefits cover medical expenses associated with the injury and are payable up until you recover or reach the maximum point of recovery (where a doctor determines that your health will not improve regardless of medical input).

Unseaworthiness Claims

A Jones Act seaman is also protected by the principle of seaworthiness. The principle requires ship owners to provide workers with ships that are in seaworthy condition; their tools and parts should be in good condition, equipment should be fit for purpose, and the crew should be trained and competent.

If you are injured as a result of a ship being unseaworthy, you are entitled to sue your employer or shipowner under a claim of unseaworthiness. Here, you can seek damages for medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, lost earnings, disability, loss of consortium or for any other injuries suffered. You do not need to prove negligence on the part of the operator or owner, only that the ship was not seaworthy.

Death Benefits

If a seaman’s injuries cause death, the family of the deceased can claim additional damages for their suffering, especially if the seaman was the breadwinner of the family.

An insured Jones Act seaman is also entitled to other rights such as the right to sue for breach of contract, wrongful discharge from employment, unearned sick wages and any other claim arising from employment.

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