Maritime Attorney: How the Jones Act Applies to Workplace Injuries
If you are a river traffic worker, you are constantly facing hazards while working. These hazards generally include slippery deck, falling objects, handling heavy machinery, harsh weather, and rough waters.
Unfortunately, if you sustained injury on the job, worker’s compensation law does not apply. Rather, the Jones Act would govern your work-related injury. Our knowledgeable maritime attorney understands the complexities of the Jones Act and are available to assist you.
What Is the Jones Act?
The Jones Act, also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, is a federal statute, codified on October 6, 2006 as 46 U.S.C. §30104, that provides American seamen who sustained injury or died in the course of their employment the right to sue their employer for compensation due to negligence. The Jones Act requires maritime employers to:
- Provide seamen with a reasonably safe place to work; and,
- Use ordinary care under the circumstances to maintain and keep the vessel in a reasonably safe condition.
In order to qualify under the Jones Act, you must first show that you are a seaman.
A “seaman” is a crewmember or captain who:
- Spends a significant amount of his or her time
- Working on a vessel that is “in navigation”
- And such work “contributes to the work of the vessel.”
“Significant Amount of Time” Requirement
In Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis, the United States Supreme Court held that a maritime worker is considered a seaman if he or she spends at least 30% of his or her time in the service of a vessel on navigable waters. 515 U.S. 347, 371 (1995). A maritime worker who spends less than 30% on a vessel at sea is a land-based employee and not a member of the vessel’s crew. The land-based maritime employee does not have the right to directly sue his employer under the Jones Act even if he sustained injury while working on a vessel at sea. Conversely, a maritime worker who spends at least 30% of his time on a vessel in navigation but was injured while performing his duties while on land does not lose his status as a seaman for the purposes of the Jones Act. Id. at 354-64.
“Vessel in Navigation” Requirement
To meet the “vessel in navigation” requirement, the vessel that you sustained injury on must be:
- Afloat – it cannot be permanently anchored to the seafloor.
- In operation – it cannot be a new vessel that is undergoing sea trials to ensure it is operable. That vessel is not actually in commercial operation and therefore, not considered a “vessel in navigation.”
- Capable of moving – the vessel does not need to be moving or at sea; rather, it needs to be able to move under its own power or being sailed. It could be docked or moored but not dry-docked or out of the water.
- On navigable waters – the water must facilitate interstate or foreign commerce. This not only includes the ocean, but also rivers and lakes. Even landlocked lakes qualify if they extend to another state or connect to a river that flows through or into another state.
“Contributes to the Work of the Vessel” Requirement
Your work “contributes to the work of the vessel” if your work adds to the accomplishment of the vessel’s mission. For example, you are a maritime employee who is the administrative staff to the vessel’s owners. You seek transportation on a tugboat to get to point B. The tugboat is towing a barge from point A to point B. The mere fact that you are on a tugboat does not mean you are assisting with the transportation of the vessel’s mission: towing the barge from point A to point B. Thus, the law does not consider your work to contribute to the work of the vessel.
How Do I Prove Negligence?
Under the Jones Act, with the help of a maritime attorney you may sue your maritime employer for negligence. To recover monetary compensation for your injuries from your employer, you must show that:
- The owner, captain, or other crewmember was negligent; and,
- The negligent act caused your injury.
As long as your employer’s negligence played a part in our injury, your right to sue your employer stands.
Almost any unsafe condition, no matter how small, could lead to your employer’s liability:
- Improperly maintained or repaired equipment or machinery
- Improperly maintained or repaired vessel
- Failure to provide crew members with proper training or equipment to perform their duties
- Grease or oil on the deck
- Unsafe work methods
- Negligence or assault by your co-worker.
What Compensation Am I Entitled To?
Under general maritime law, sustaining injury while performing duties as a river traffic worker entitles you to maintenance (room and board), cure (medical treatment) and unearned wages without regard to fault. A maritime attorney ensures that you receive adequate compensation.
Under the Jones Acts, you may also recover:
- Past, present and future medical expenses
- Past and future lost earnings
- Lost earning capacity
- Past, present and future pain, suffering and mental anguish
- Loss of enjoyment of life
Seek an Experienced Maritime Lawyer
To receive the benefits, you should consult a seasoned river traffic worker injury attorney who comprehends the complexities of the Jones Act. Our skilled attorneys will investigate your claim, including determining:
- Whether you qualify under the Jones Act
- Whether a proper evaluation of the hazards of the work was performed prior to your work starting
- What was implemented, if anything, to minimize risk of injury to the crew
- Adherence to safety policies
- Availability of safety gear
- Whether there was sufficient crew members