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What is the Jones Act and to whom do its provisions apply?

Anyone who works aboard a sea vessel faces certain inherent risks and dangers. Seamen are often forced to perform work-related duties while battling inclement weather and rough sea conditions. Even in calm conditions; equipment may malfunction, slippery conditions onboard a vessel may result in an individual suffering injuries related to a slip and fall or the negligent actions of a co-worker may put an individual’s physical health and wellbeing in jeopardy.

Considering the dangerous working conditions that accompany employment aboard a sea vessel, in 1920, seamen were afforded legal protections with the enaction of the Jones Act. Under the Jones Act, a seaman who is injured as a result of another individual’s negligent are allowed to seek compensation related to his or her pain and suffering, medical expenses, lost earnings and other loss of income.

The Jones Act has strict requirements that must be met before an individual can take any legal action. An individual must be able to prove that he or she was employed as a “seaman” at the time an injury occurred. In general in order to qualify as a seaman under the Jones Act an individual “worker must aid in the fulfillment of the vessel’s mission.” Under this definition, dock workers and longshoremen are excluded.

Additionally, a seaman must work aboard a legal sea vessel or, as defined by the Jones Act, “a watercraft … used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water.” This definition is inclusive of cargo ships, commercial fishing boats and cruise ships; however, stationary oil rigs are excluded and therefore oil rig workers are not protected under the Jones Act.

In addition to providing legal remedy for an injured seaman, in the event of death, the Jones Act may also be incited to aid a seaman’s family members in recovering compensation.

Source: FindLaw.com, “Jones Act Overview,” 2015

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