Who Is A Jones Act Seaman?

July 27, 2015

Our Texas offshore injury lawyers frequently receive calls from injured Jones Act seamen, who are surprised when their company benefits coordinator tells them they are not entitled to workers’ compensation because they are covered by the “Jones Act.”

Being Covered By The Jones Act Is Often A Good Thing For Injured Offshore Workers

The initial reaction of most offshore and maritime workers is that being subject to the Jones Act must be a bad thing. After all, the Jones Act “maintenance” their employer pays may only be $25-50 per day. Depending on the circumstances, this is frequently much less than an injured land-based worker would receive from workers’ compensation insurance.

But here’s the reality: being covered by the Jones Act is often a good thing. The reason is that, unlike workers who are subject to workers’ compensation, Jones Act seamen are entitled to bring claims against their employers. This allows them to recover the full amount of damages they have suffered.

Personnel covered by workers’ compensation, meanwhile, are often prohibited from suing their employers, which in some circumstances means that the employee has no recourse to be made whole for his or her injuries. However, that’s not always the case.

Qualification For Seaman Status

The first step in determining whether the Jones Act applies is determining whether you qualify as a “seaman.”

The United States Supreme Court formulated the two-part test for seaman status in Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347 (1995):

  1. The workers’ duties must “contribut[e] to the function of the vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission.”   This does not necessarily require that the worker “aid in navigation or contribute to the transportation of the vessel,” but does require that he “be doing the ship’s work.”
  2. “[A] a seaman 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. The fundamental purpose of this substantial connection requirement is to give full effect to the remedial scheme created by Congress and to separate the sea-based maritime employees who are entitled to Jones Act protection from those land-based workers who have only a transitory or sporadic connection to a vessel in navigation, and therefore whose employment does not regularly expose them to the perils of the sea. This requirement therefore determines which maritime employees in [the] broad category of persons eligible for seaman status because they are ‘doing the ship’s work,’ are in fact entitled to the benefits conferred upon seamen by the Jones Act because they have the requisite employment.”

“If it can be shown that the employee performed a significant part of his work on board the vessel on which he was injured, with at least some degree of regularity and continuity, the test for seaman status will be satisfied.” See 1B A. Jenner, Benedict on Admiralty § 11a, pp. 2–10.1 to 2–11 (7th ed. 1994).

Our Texas Offshore Injury Lawyers Help Injured Workers

Determining whether you qualify as a seaman under the Jones Act may require a complicated analysis of your job duties and responsibilities, where you work, and how courts have analyzed similar situations. Your best bet is to call one of our Texas maritime injury lawyers for a free, confidential consultation to discuss your situation.

Morrow & Sheppard are experienced Houston Jones Act attorneys privileged to represent seamen who work on traditional maritime vessels, as well as offshore workers for oil companies, oilfield services companies, and drilling contractors who work on mobile offshore drilling units (“MODUs”), drillships, jack-ups, and other drilling vessels.

We are based in Houston, but we handle serious offshore and maritime injury cases around the country, with an emphasis in Texas and Louisiana. Please contact us now to discuss whether you are entitled to bring a Jones Act claim.

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

We’re available 24/7.

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