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Defining “in the service of the vessel”

Those in Manhattan who work in the maritime industry are likely well-aware of the perils that they face from their profession. The heightened risk that they encounter while on the job has prompted policy makers to extend them added protections through the Jones Act. Section 30104 of this Act (as shared by the Cornell University Law School) clearly stipulates that injured seamen are allowed to bring action against their employers. It is also clear in detailing that one’s injury must be sustained during the course of employment to qualify for this relief.

The general term used to define cases where the Jones Act applies are when injuries are sustained “in the service of the vessel.” Over the years, the question of what job functions are considered to be in the service of the vessel has arisen in multiple cases. The Supreme Court established a basic standard for such service in its 1995 ruling in . It determined that a seaman must have an employment-related connection to a vessel in navigation. The following elements must be present to establish such a connection:

  • An individual must contribute to a vessel’s function or the accomplishment of its mission
  • That contribution is limited to a particular vessel or identifiable group of vessels
  • The contribution is substantial in terms of its duration and nature
  • The individual is regularly exposed to the hazards of the sea during the course of his or her employment

The general rule-of-thumb that emerged from this ruling is that an individual must spend at least 30 percent of his or her time on a vessel in navigation to be considered employed in its service. Whether onboard labors performed at port count towards this may be left to the interpretation of the court.

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