The Jones Act was established in 1920 as part of an overall statute to protect the United States coastline, including New York City harbor. The legislation defines what workers are covered when injured, and it also allowed for Jones Act workers to file claims and eventual lawsuits if needed. Unlike workers’ compensation for land-based workers, workers can sue their employer for “maintenance and cure” which also allows for long-term general damages that are restricted by land-based workers’ comp programs.
Just as in any other civil suit, the burden of proof is incumbent on the plaintiff. The injured worker must first establish Jones Act eligibility as an employee. After determining the injured claimant is entitled to benefits under the act, they must then prove the injury occurred while on a vessel or while performing job-related duties.
The fact that a worker was at sea or working under the Jones Act at the time of an injury does not necessarily prove negligence. Evidence of lax maintenance or other safety violations or unreasonable job responsibility demands can establish a failure to provide a reasonable duty of care for an injured worker. Comparative negligence can be used as a defense, but rarely applies.
Proving the claim requires the plaintiff to state the nature of the injury supported by medical documentation regarding the diagnosis and prognosis of how it prohibits them from working and potentially worsen over time. Some injuries will also be supported by an accident report when they occur due to a particular job-related incident, but repetitive motion injuries may be claimed as well.
Being determined as a Jones Act employee is a major advantage for injured maritime workers due to the potential for long-term general damages. These cases are also processed in maritime court under a judge or judicial panel instead of a jury, so the court dynamics are different from state courts.