What is a Seaman?

A crew member or “seaman” is an officer or member of a ship’s crew. It is necessary for an employee to be considered a seaman in order to claim certain compensation and damages for injuries under the Jones Act. In a U.S. Supreme Court case, Chandris v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347 (1995), the Court created a definition. To be a considered a seaman a person’s “duties must contribute to the function of the vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission” and the person “must have a connection to a vessel in navigation (or to an identifiable group of such vessels) that is substantial in terms of both its duration and its nature.”  For a vessel to be “in navigation,” the vessel must be moving on its’ own on navigable waters and not permanently anchored to the floor of the sea. For a seaman to have the substantial connection, the general rule of thumb is that at least 30 percent of the person’s employment be spent on a single vessel or multiple vessels within a specific fleet (more than one of the employer’s ships). People who work on the dock or fixed platforms are not considered seamen (e.g., longshoremen and workers on fixed oil rigs). Those workers can receive coverage for injuries under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.

Once someone is found to be a seaman, he or she is covered under the Jones Act for any injuries at sea caused by a ship’s unseaworthiness or the negligence of the employer. Seamen can then put in a claim for lost wages and damages due to the injury.  They can also ask for maintenance and cure. “Maintenance” is the room and board required when a seaman is onshore, unable to work, because of an injury. “Cure” is the reasonable medical expenses necessary because of the injury and transportation costs to get medical treatment.

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