The Jones Act, also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, is one of the most important laws for seamen who have been injured on the job.
As outlined in its Preamble, the Act is designed to support a vibrant maritime industry in the U.S. There are many sections to the Act and many components including regulations for maritime commerce and coastal shipping, and these have been revised many times, most recently in 2006.
The Rights of Seamen
One of the most important provisions of this law is to maintain the rights of seamen on duty and to protect them in the case of injury while working. The Act mandates that seamen must be provided with adequate and reasonable food, shelter, and medical care while working aboard a maritime vessel. Employers are also expected to provide care for seamen injured on the job, whether from negligence or unseaworthiness. If that is not provided the seaman has the right, according to the Jones Act, to file a claim for damages.
Seamen Protected by the Jones Act
The law protects all seamen, defined as those men and women working most of the time aboard a vessel or contributing to the function of a maritime vessel. The right to make a claim applies to any type of seamen injured while on navigable waters. This could include sailors, deckhands, divers, mechanics, drillers, stewards, mates, cooks, fishermen, captains, pilots, and anyone in any other working position aboard the vessel.
The qualification that the vessel must be on navigable waters leaves some types of maritime workers out of the rights of the Jones Act. For instance, someone working on a vessel that is not on the water, that is instead on land being built or repaired, does not qualify as a seaman under the Act. A qualified seaman must spend at least 30 percent of working time aboard a vessel in navigable waters. There are other statutes under maritime law that protect these other workers not qualified for the law.
Jones Act Claims
If a qualified seaman is covered, he or she may file a claim to seek damages and compensation. The law states that a seaman must file that claim within seven days of an injury. It is best to file a claim as soon after an accident as possible. Injuries should also be reported to a Captain, supervisor, or manager as soon as possible. The claim process also requires that an official maritime accident report be field that details the accident or injury.
Pain and Suffering Claims
There are several things that can be claimed by an injured seaman according to the Jones Act, including damages for pain and suffering. This may include both physical and mental pain and suffering. The law does not set a guideline for exactly how much in damages a seaman should receive for physical or mental suffering. Each case is treated individually and damages are considered and awarded depending on the particular details.
Lost Wages Claims
A claim for lost wages can be very important to any injured seaman. If you are unable to work because of your injury, you can seek damages for the earnings you lose as a result. Claims can be made to receive pay for present lost wages, reduced future earning capacity, and benefits like 401k contributions, pensions, and accumulated vacation time.
Medical Costs Claims
Injured seamen may have extensive medical bills as a result of a maritime accident and this is another type of claim that can be made according to the Jones Act. If you are injured you can claim the present expenses, but also anticipated future medical expenses that may be needed as a result of the injury. Claims may include transportation costs for receiving treatment, rehabilitation, surgery, occupational therapy, physical therapy, mental health care, and any equipment needed because of the injury.
Punitive Damages Claims
In the case that a vessel was found to be known by the employer to be unseaworthy or the employer was recklessly negligent in some way, and this resulted in an accident and injury to a seaman, that worker may claim punitive damages in addition to any medical costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering claims. It is not as easy to win damages like these, as it has to be proven that the employer showed reckless disregard for employees and their safety.
Wrongful Death Claims
In the terrible event that a seaman dies aboard a vessel, his or her beneficiaries or dependents can file a Jones Act claim for wrongful death. The claim, if won, may provide dependents with financial support in a variety of forms. The support may be for lost wages, funeral costs, pain and suffering, medical expenses for the seaman prior to death, and for special costs needed for dependent children.
Supporting the U.S. Military
The importance of the Jones Act to the U.S. Military cannot be overstated. The Act includes regulations that force all vessels in the U.S. and in coastal waters to follow American laws. It also pushes for safer and more productive maritime work environments because it requires that employers be held accountable when workers are injured or killed.
Helping to keep the U.S. maritime industry safe, productive, and thriving supports the military because it can be called upon in times of need. The U.S. Navy in particular relies on having a private maritime industry that is ready to be used during war time. The military needs to be able to rely on the ships, terminals, ports, and associated technologies throughout the U.S. if war makes calling on them necessary.
The Economic Importance of the Jones Act
The fact that the Jones Act supports the maritime industry and ensures that it is strong, productive, and safe, is not just important to the military; it is also crucial to the economy. There are nearly 40,000 vessels operating under the Jones Act with half a million jobs and billions of dollars.
Without the Jones Act to protect this industry, a major component of the economy would be in trouble. Without the Act, the costs of overseeing the industry, of ensuring that ships follow U.S. law and of keeping maritime environments safe, would fall to the Department of Homeland Security, at a great financial cost.