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A brief history of the Jones Act

Virtually every person employed on a commercial ship or boat has heard about the Jones Act, but many of them seem unaware of the key provisions of the statute or how it might affect their lives. The Jones Act has two key sections, one that affects boat and ship owners and one that affects the people who work on these vessels.

The Jones Act

The Merchant Marine Act was passed 1920, but it is commonly referred to by the name of its chief author, Sen. Wesley Jones, who represented the state of Washington. Jones viewed the act as a protectionist law that would benefit his many constituents who were involved in commercial shipping. For that reason, the act requires that all sea borne commerce traveling between U.S. ports be shipped on freighters owned by American citizens. The law also required at least 75% of a ship’s crew consist of American citizens. The second part of the act contains provisions that are intended to protect the rights and interests of persons who work on sea-going freighters.

Personal injury protection for seamen

The second portion of the Jones Act created rights for sailors that greatly exceeded their rights under maritime law as it existed in 1920. The Jones Act provides that any sailor who is injured at sea is entitled to a remedy known as “maintenance and cure,” which essentially means that the sailor’s employer must pay him a daily stipend for living expenses and pay for the sailor’s medical expenses. If the injury was caused by the negligence of the captain or another sailor, the injured seaman could recover additional damages from the negligent person. Moreover, the Act requires the ship’s owner to provide a vessel that is seaworthy. If a sailor is killed by an accident while working, his survivors are eligible for death benefits.

How the Jones Act helps

Filing a claim under the Jones Act can be a very complex undertaking, involving evidence demonstrating negligence or the existence of unseaworthy conditions on the ship. Anyone who is injured while working on a maritime vessel should consult an experienced Jones Act lawyer for an evaluation of the evidence and advice on where and how to commence the claim.