How the Jones Act Protects Maritime Workers

There are a number of labor and employment laws that are designed to protect the interests and well-being of those who hold jobs on land. For instance, if a person gets hurt while working in a factory or in another land-based location, this individual can seek financial compensation to cover their resulting medical expenses and lost wages among other things. 

Unfortunately, these laws do not apply to people who perform work at sea. However, with the institution of the Jones Act, seamen were given a similar range of protections so that work-related injuries did not result in devastating loss. 

Established in 1920, this U.S. federal statute for waters and ports was revised in 2006. Understanding the terms and provisions of the Jones Act is important for anyone working within the shipping industry, on water vessels, or in ports. 

Seamen Can Recover Damages for Negligence-Related Accidents and Injuries

Workers’ compensation does not cover the maritime industry because these workers are subject to maritime laws. Thus, seamen cannot file for state or federal workers’ compensation after being injured due to employer negligence. 

One part of the Jones Act exists to insure that seamen are able to obtain similar compensation despite technically being in a different legal jurisdiction. Those who are protected under this act include but are not limited to:

  • Captains and mates
  • Engineers
  • Fishers
  • Divers
  • Drillers
  • Deckhands
  • Bartenders

However, to qualify for the protections that are offered under the Jones Act, people must spend 30 percent of their work time working in navigable waters or contributing to work on any boat or other vessel that is used for maritime navigation. 

Even if a person is working on a vessel that is moored to the dock, because this vessel is still capable of maritime navigation, the Jones Act would apply to any work-related injuries.

How the Jones Act Applies to Contributing Workers

One common misconception about the Jones Act is that it is only applicable to those engaging in maritime activities that are perceived as being inherently dangerous. However, just as this statute applies to laborers performing work on vessels that have been docked, it is also applicable to those who contribute to the ongoing functions of at-sea vessels. 

For example, bartenders, cooks, waitstaff, housekeepers, and all others who hold roles on cruise ships are protected by the Jones Act while at sea and while present on vessels that have been docked.

Proving Employer Negligence

Proving employer negligence is essential for receiving compensation under this act. Thus, seamen cannot leverage these protections if they sustain injuries as the result of being intoxicated or otherwise under the influence when performing their duties. However, they can seek compensation if their employers:

  • Failed to install skid-proof or slip-proof decking materials
  • Did not post proper warning signage near hazardous areas
  • Failed to perform essential vessel inspections, maintenance, or repairs
  • Did not supply adequate personal protective equipment

At sea and in docking areas, employers are required to provide seaworthy vessels and adequate equipment, training, and protective gear among other things.

What Compensation Under the Jones Act Can Include

Compensation under the Jones Act covers three primary areas of loss and damage. These are lost wages, medical bills, and a person’s pain and suffering. In some cases where there was extreme negligence, seamen or their families may receive punitive damages as well. 

When maritime injuries prove fatal, this statute also makes it possible for family members of deceased individuals to seek compensation for wrongful death. As in land-based wrongful death cases, compensation for wrongful death under the Jones Act can include pain and suffering, wage loss, burial expenses, and final medical expenses.

Protections offered under the Jones Act help improve the appeal of maritime employment. Seamen can rest assured that if injuries are sustained as the result of employer negligence, they’ll be duly compensated. Moreover, should negligence-related accidents result in their death, their loved ones have the opportunity to obtain similar compensation by filing wrongful death lawsuits.

Adam Hansen

Adam is a part time journalist, entrepreneur, investor and father.