The Jones Act: Know Your Rights

August 31, 2023

The maritime industry is one such sector where the risk runs deep and wide.

An injury can change your life in an instant, but with knowledge on your side, you can make sure it doesn’t derail your future completely.

In the unpredictable world of maritime work, a century-old law serves as a crucial safety net. The Jones Act, enacted in 1920, provides legal remedies that are essential for the recovery and financial stability of injured seamen. The Jones Act isn’t just about compensation—it’s about justice for those who brave our waters. This protective shield is specifically designed for workers on vessels navigating through both domestic and international waters. 

But who exactly does it protect?

Who is Protected by the Jones Act?

The term “seaman,” according to the Jones Act, extends beyond captains or crew members. It includes various types of workers who directly contribute to their vessel’s function and mission. This means that if you’re part of this dynamic workforce at sea, you’re likely covered by the Jones Act.

  • A significant portion of your employment must be spent on a vessel or fleet operating in navigable waters.
  • You should directly contribute to the function or mission of your vessel.

If these conditions apply to you, congratulations. You fall within the purview of this protective legislation.

Rights and Remedies under the Jones Act

More than 100 years since the passage of this pivotal act—hundreds, if not thousands, injuries were reported by seafarers covered by the Jones Act. Negligence aboard a vessel and a vessel’s unseaworthiness (which could be inadequate equipment or crewmembers) can lead not only to serious injuries but also to costly medical bills, pain and suffering, mental anguish, lost wages, future earnings loss, a diminished quality of life, and other related costs resulting from harm suffered at sea. Understandably so, the trauma resulting from an injury can leave many unable to return immediately—or ever—to their jobs.

What Should I Do if I am Injured at Sea? 

You should report the injury as soon as possible and identify everything that you feel has been injured. If a lawsuit ever becomes necessary, your employer may use the information you write (or do not write) on the Incident Report against you. Therefore, you should put down as much information as you can about how you were injured and what injuries you have (whether big or small)—do not let your captain or other crewmembers influence you to minimize what happened or the extent of your injuries. You should seek medical treatment as soon as possible. You can ask to be taken off the vessel to obtain treatment and go to a doctor of your choosing. To be clear, generally, Jones Act seamen have the absolute right to choose their doctor. You may want to be wary if your employer insists on taking you to the company doctor or an occupational clinic. Maritime employers may put their interests ahead of those who are injured. 

What Rights Do Injured Seamen Have?

As a maritime worker, you’re more than just another cog in the wheel. Thanks to the Jones Act, you have a safety net if things go south on high seas. This 100-year-old law covers not only captains and crew members but also other workers who keep the ship sailing smoothly.  If you are injured, knowing your rights to compensation like maintenance and cure benefits becomes the lifeboat you need. The path to financial recovery after a maritime injury can be complex. 

Understanding your rights is crucial. The foundation of any compensation package for an injured seaman is the provision of maintenance and cure benefits. While these terms may sound unfamiliar, they have a significant impact on the lives of injured workers. ‘Maintenance’ refers to the coverage of daily living expenses, such as food and housing costs, while ‘cure’ encompasses the necessary medical treatment until the injured worker reaches maximum medical improvement. These benefits are provided regardless of who was at fault for the accident or illness, offering vital financial support during the recovery process. The obligation to provide maintenance and cure benefits continues until the injured worker reaches “maximum medical improvement,” which is the point at which no further healing or recovery is expected. If a maritime employer unreasonably, willfully, and wantonly withholds maintenance and cure benefits, they may open themselves up to a punitive damages award.  

You also may be entitled to compensation for things like:

  • Doctor bills, hospital stays, surgeries, and other treatments that you need now and in the future;
  • Your lost wages and future lost wages if you are unable to work in the future;
  • Your pain and suffering;
  • Your mental anguish; and
  • Any disfigurement you have suffered. 

If you are married, your spouse may be entitled to compensation if the injury affected your relationship.

The Jones Act helps sailors and their families get the money they need if they get hurt.

Types of Maritime Injuries and Their Causes

In the high-risk world of maritime work, injuries are unfortunately common. The causes range from everyday accidents such as slips and falls to more complex incidents involving machinery or hazardous substances.

A frequent type of accident in this industry is a slip or fall. Whether it’s due to slippery decks, unstable gangways, or moving vessels, these incidents can lead to severe physical injury to seamen. Additionally, many seamen sustain lifting-related injuries due to maritime mishaps. Moreover, complex equipment operates continuously in close quarters, often causing workers to get caught in or between moving parts, resulting in crushing injuries or even amputations. 

Beyond immediate physical threats lie less visible but equally dangerous risks: exposure to hazardous substances at sea, including toxic gases emitted by engines and volatile chemicals used for cleaning purposes aboard vessels, which pose health risks if not handled properly. Moreover, prolonged contact with harmful substances could cause respiratory issues, skin disorders, and neurological damage over time due to chemical poisoning. This hidden hazard underscores the importance of proper training in handling hazardous materials along with stringent safety protocols on board all vessels.

Maritime work, with its slippery decks and heavy machinery, is a hotbed for injuries ranging from slips to hazardous substance exposure.

Contact Our Experienced Jones Act Lawyers at Morrow & Sheppard

In the unpredictable waters of maritime law, you don’t have to navigate alone. The team at Morrow & Sheppard possesses the experience, expertise, and empathy to champion your rights and secure the compensation you deserve. Remember, understanding your legal rights is vital, but having a seasoned team to advocate for those rights is paramount. Don’t wait for the tide to turn against you; secure your future now. Reach out to the Jones Act lawyers at Morrow & Sheppard for a free, confidential consultation at (800) 489-2216. Your peace of mind is just a call away.

Get a Free Case Review by Calling Morrow & Sheppard Now.

We’re available 24/7.

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