Century-Old Jones Act Continues to Protect Maritime Workers

December 3, 2018

There has been recent talk about repealing the Jones Act of 1920 in the American economy, stating that it is an antiquated law that does not fit in a modern economy. However, the Jones Act was enacted to protect the safety and general well-being of maritime industry workers and was enacted in response to the previous lack of protections.

What is the Jones Act?

When referring to maritime law, the Jones Act controls coastwise trade within the United States and determines which ships may lawfully engage in that trade and the rules under which they must operate. As a safety measure, the Jones Act bans foreign vessels from naval transport in the U.S. coastal waters and between American ports, restricting them to American-built Jones Act vessels flying the U.S. flag and crewed primarily by American citizens. The argument regarding the economy stems from the fact that American-made ships can cost three times as much as foreign ones. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration, crews on U.S. flagged vessels are paid five times as much as those on foreign ships. It is also reported that the average operating cost of a U.S.-flagged vessel is 2.7 times higher than that of its foreign counterparts. Because there are others in the industry who can compete for less, it is argued that it hurts the economy and that the Jones Act only helps a small percentage of people.

However, the Jones Act does much more than “protect just a few shipping companies and maritime unions”—ensuring that the maritime industry acts responsibly. In addition to economic guidelines and environmental regulations, the Jones Act contains important information about the maritime industry’s responsibilities regarding the safety and well-being of its crews. The Jones Act encapsulates the importance of having a strong maritime industry—the backbone of that industry being the safety of those who work to maintain it.

Before the Jones Act, seamen were very limited in recovering from injuries aboard ships. A series of case laws began in 1903 that held an injured seaman had no remedy against a negligent shipowner or fellow seaman other than maintenance and cure. The Jones Act became an important piece of legislation because it made the Federal Employers Liability Act (“FELA”) applicable to seamen. By doing so, it now safeguards the rights of sailors from being exploited by requiring compensation for injuries due to negligence by their employers. The Jones Act takes this protection one step further by requiring that employers maintain safe environments, provide medical care, and set standards for vessel maintenance, safety equipment such as lifeboats, crew qualifications, and training and licensing.

Those who have been hurt in a maritime accident should know they have rights and contact an attorney experienced in maritime law. Doing so offers the best opportunity for injured seamen and offshore workers to pursue the relief they are entitled to. Morrow & Sheppard’s Jones Act lawyers are privileged to assist those injured offshore, at sea, and on other navigable waterways (like rivers). We have experience litigating the complicated legal issues involved in a Jones Act analysis.

Our former clients include maritime professionals such as offshore rig workers, tanker crews, tugboat workers, cruise ship employees, and other maritime workers.

Call us at (800) 489-2216 today for help navigating your legal claim.

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