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    What is the Jones Act?

    The Jones Act is a law that gives seamen that were injured while in service to a vessel or fleet of vessels the right to sue their employer for personal injuries and be compensated for their damages (or put another way…recover fully for their losses). Jones Act seamen can sue their employers for losses including, but not limited to: (a) failure to pay maintenance and cure, (b) lost wages, (c) lost earning capacity, (d) pain and suffering, (e) mental anguish, and (f) disfigurement.

    Unlike Most Workers, Seamen Have the Right to Sue Their Employers for Personal Injuries

    Generally, workers cannot sue their employers when the employer has workers’ compensation insurance coverage. However, seamen are unlike most workers.  Seamen are not entitled to workers’ compensation insurance benefits under state or federal law. The only means for seamen to recover for their losses is through the Jones Act and general maritime law.

    What Losses Can Seamen Recover Under the Jones Act?

    Although not an exhaustive list, seamen can sue to recover the following under the Jones Act:

    Maintenance and Cure

    Maintenance and cure are unique rights only available to seamen. Maintenance is the right of a seaman to food and lodging if he is injured while in the service of a ship. Cure is the right to necessary medical services.”[1]  “Maintenance, and its necessary companion cure, are hallowed rights of seamen who are injured or become ill while in the service of a ship.”[2]  Shipowners and vessels must provide sick and injured seamen with maintenance and cure. Seamen do not have to prove negligence or culpability of the captain or ship owner. “The duty to provide maintenance and cure is without regard to fault, and negligence and causation are not relevant.”[3] That said, maintenance and cure “is not only a contract right but is a right under the general maritime law accorded to seamen by long tradition in recognition of the special dangers and sacrifices which characterize maritime employment.[4]

    As the United States Supreme Court has held:

    The right to receive maintenance and cure was first recognized in this country in two lower court decisions authored by Justice Story. According to Justice Story, this common-law obligation to seamen was justified on humanitarian and economic grounds: “If some provision be not made for [seamen] in sickness at the expense of the ship, they must often in foreign ports suffer the accumulated evils of disease, and poverty, and sometimes perish from the want of suitable nourishment … . [T]he merchant himself derives an ultimate benefit [because i]t encourages seamen to engage in perilous voyages with more promptitude, and at lower wages.”

    This Court has since registered its agreement with these decisions. “Upon a full review … of English and American authorities,” the Court concluded that “the vessel and her owners are liable, in case a seaman falls sick, or is wounded, in the service of the ship, to the extent of his maintenance and cure, and to his wages, at least so long as the voyage is continued.” Decisions following The Osceola have explained that in addition to wages, “maintenance” includes food and lodging at the expense of their ship, and “cure” refers to medical treatment. [5]

    Further, defenses to maintenance and cure are few. As a general rule, the seaman needs only prove that his injury or illness arose during employment. He is not required to establish a causal link between his job duties and his injury. The contributory negligence of the seaman will not diminish his recovery and neither his assumption of the risk nor gross negligence will bar an award.[6] Courts have held seamen were entitled to maintenance and cure when, for example, a seaman got drunk and fell over a dance hall balcony.[7] In another case, a seaman was entitled to maintenance and cure when he had to jump out a window while drunk because a prostitute locked him in a room.[8] This is exactly why the United States Supreme Court has held juries can and should award attorneys’ fees and punitive damages when companies fail to pay maintenance and cure.[9]

    Lost Wages

    Lost wages amount to the amount of money an individual would have likely earned had they not been injured and unable to work. Lost wages are calculated from the day of the injury until the time of trial. Lost wages and maintenance are not the same thing. “Maintenance is the equivalent of the food and lodging to which a seaman is entitled while at sea…Maintenance is neither a substitute for wages nor is it to be considered in lieu of a seaman’s wages, in whole or in part. Maintenance can be awarded in addition to past and future wages.”[10]

    Loss of Future Earnings and Earning Capacity

    Injured seamen may be entitled to sue for the wages they expected to earn in the future if they had not been injured. Lost future earnings and earning capacity are essentially the amount a seaman would have earned in salary and benefits if they had not been injured. The amount a seaman could have earned in the future is based on several factors, including an analysis of promotions and pay increases, their work life expectancy, and inflation.

    Pain and Suffering

    Pain and suffering are a type of loss that can be pursued in a personal injury lawsuit. There are typically two types of losses that fall under pain and suffering—physical and mental pain. Pain and suffering can include physical pain as well as mental pains, such as anxiety, depression, and other negative emotions that accompany an injury.

    Mental Anguish

    Mental anguish amounts to “emotional pain, torment, and suffering.”[11]  Mental anguish is a high degree of mental pain and distress that is more than mere worry, anxiety, vexation, embarrassment, that amounts to a substantial disruption in the injured seaman’s daily routine.   To recover compensation for mental anguish, an injured seamen must introduce “direct evidence of the nature, duration, and severity of their mental anguish, thus establishing a substantial disruption.”[12]


    Texas courts have defined disfigurement as an “impairment of beauty, symmetry, or appearance; that which renders unsightly or deforms in some way.”[13] Damages related to disfigurement are not the same as pain and suffering and mental anguish.[14]

    How Can a Morrow & Sheppard Help Me With My Jones Act Claim?

    Not every personal injury lawyer has experience handling Jones Act claims. Navigating maritime law can be tough. Our Jones Act lawyers have recovered millions of dollars for Jones Act seamen around the country. We are trial lawyers and are not afraid of the courtroom. We have nationwide experience and do not slink away from a fight. We will fight for you!

    How Long Do I Have to File a Jones Act Claim?

    Like personal injury law, contract law, and criminal law, you have a limited amount of time to file a Jones Act claim. This is generally three years under 46 U.S. Code § 30106. However, there may be exceptions that the lawyers at Morrow & Sheppard, LLP can explain.

    Contact a Houston Jones Act Lawyer at Morrow & Sheppard for a Free Consultation

    If you have been injured and would like to learn more about your legal rights, contact us to schedule a free, confidential consultation with one of our experienced Houston Jones Act attorneys.  You can call us at 800-489-2216, online, or you can start a chat by clicking the chat box (if viewing this on your computer) or by tapping the “Live Chat” option at the bottom of the page.

    [1] Weeks Marine, Inc. v. Garza, 371 S.W.3d 157, 161 (Tex. 2012).

    [2] Morel v. Sabine Towing & Transp. Co., Inc., 669 F.2d 345, 346 (5th Cir. 1982)

    [3] In re Gulf South Marine Transp, Inc., No. Civ.A. 01–1755, 2002 WL 83643 at *3 (E.D. La. Jan. 17, 2002) quoting Thomas J. Schoenbaum, Admiralty and Maritime Law, § 6–28 (2d ed. 1994).

    [4] Thomas J. Schoenbaum, Admiralty and Maritime Law, § 6–28 (5th ed. 2011).

    [5] Atlantic Sounding Co. v. Townsend, 557 U.S. 404, 413 (2009) (internal citations omitted).

    [6] Thomas J. Schoenbaum, Admiralty and Maritime Law, § 6-31 (5th ed. 2011).

    [7] See generally Warren v. U.S., 340 U.S. 523 (1951).

    [8] See Generally Koistinen v. American Expert Lines, Inc., 194 Misc. 942 (N.Y. Cty. 1948).

    [9] See, e.g. Stermer v. Archer-Daniels-Midland Co., 140 So. 3d 879 (La. 3d Cir. 2014, pet. denied 151 So.3d 603) (holding seaman was entitled to punitive damages and attorneys’ fees where employer for failure to pay maintenance and cure); Vaughn v. Atkinson, 369 U.S. 527, 530 (1962) (injured seamen entitled to attorneys’ fees for failure to pay maintenance and cure); Atlantic Sounding Co. v. Townsend, 557 U.S. 404, 413 (2009) (inured seamen entitled to punitive damages for failure to pay maintenance and cure).

    [10] Colburn v. Bunge Towing, Inc., 883 F.2d 372, 378 (5th Cir.1989)(internal citations omitted).

    [11] Kirk L. Pittard, Submission of Pain and Suffering and Mental Anguish in the Jury Charge, 77 The Advoc. (Texas) 50, 50 (2016).

    [12] Parkway Co. v. Woodruff, 901 S.W.2d 434 (Tex.1995)

    [13] Hopkins County Hosp. Dist. v Allen, 760 S.W.2d 341 (Tex.App.—Texarkana 1988, no writ).

    [14] Pedernales Electric Cooperative v. Schultz, 583 S.W.2d 882 (Tex.Civ.App.—Waco 1979, writ ref’d n.r.e.).

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