What Is the Jones Act?
The Jones Act is also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920. You may see it called the Jones Act 1920, as well. All of these refer to a federal law that dictates several rules regarding the operation of vessels in American waters and maritime workers’ rights after a work-related injury.
The Jones Act came about after the RMS Titanic sank in 1912, and it is estimated that between 685 and 693 crew members perished. The unexpected and tragic incident demonstrated that working on a vessel could be dangerous. At the same time, maritime workers around the world were suffering injuries or fatal work-related accidents. Injured workers and surviving family members were learning just how little help was offered to them.
The Jones Act was also enacted after World War I to protect domestic and international shipping. The Jones Act provides protections for injured or killed maritime workers. It also creates parameters for domestic shipping. It requires that any vessels that transport merchandise between certain points in the U.S. must be built in the U.S., owned by U.S. citizens, flagged under the U.S., and crewed by U.S. citizens or documented immigrants.
The Jones Act Differs From Workers Compensation
Your right and the process for seeking compensation under the Jones Act are not the same as a traditional workers’ compensation claim. How your friend or relative handled a workers’ comp issue in Texas will not be how you handle a workplace accident. When a typical employee has a workers’ comp claim, they work directly with their employer and insurance provider. They only sue if something goes wrong, or if they have a third-party claim. Under the Jones Act, you have to file a lawsuit to recover compensation.
A major difference between the Jones Act and traditional workers’ compensation is that the Jones Act requires you to prove fault. To obtain economic and non-economic damages, you must prove that your employer or a crew member was at least partly at fault for the accident and your injuries.
There is also a significant difference in the types of damages you can pursue. Workers’ compensation insurance is typically limited to medical expenses and disability payments. Compensation under the Jones Act is similar to compensation you can obtain through a personal injury claim. It covers additional non-economic damages, such as your pain, suffering, and emotional distress.
Bringing a Jones Act claim and obtaining the compensation you deserve is not easy. You will need a law firm highly experienced in maritime law to help.
When You Are Eligible for Compensation Under the Jones Act
The Jones Act applies to seamen and sailors. To be considered a seaman (or woman) or a sailor, you need to spend at least 30 percent of your work time on a vessel or a fleet of vessels. The vessel can be any boat, ship, barge, or rig.
Federal law limits claims for compensation to workers on vessels in navigation. You may also see it talked about as a moving vessel in navigable waters. The vessel or fleet you worked on must not be drydocked or have ceased operations. That being said, the vessel does not have to be out to sea when you were hurt. It could be docked at the time of the accident.
If you are unsure of whether or not you qualify as a sailor or seamen, or whether the vessel was in navigation, call our Jones Act attorneys right away. We will analyze your job to determine if the Jones Act or another maritime law applies to your situation.
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Jones Act Workers’ Compensation
Under the Jones Act, if you can prove your employer is fully or partly after fault for your injuries, then you can receive compensation for your:
- Past, current, and future medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Physical limitations
- Loss of earning capacity
- Vocational rehabilitation
To prove that your employer or a crewmember was negligent in causing your injuries, your Jones Act lawyer may establish that you were forced to work in unsafe conditions, on an unseaworthy vessel, or with faulty equipment. To establish negligence, recklessness, or intentional misconduct on the part of your employer or another one of its employees, we will need to gather a great deal of evidence. We will also need to work with maritime experts who can discuss what the work conditions and procedures should have been to keep you safe.
However, if you cannot prove fault, you are not at a total loss. If you can prove that your injuries were the result of your duties, then you may still obtain maintenance and cure. All injured sailors and seamen have the right to compensation for maintenance, which covers their daily living expenses. This compensation is intended to pay for your rent or mortgage, utilities, and food. You also are entitled to compensation for cure, which refers to the medical expenses related to your injuries.
Your right to maintenance and cure begins the day you suffered injuries and continues until you reach maximum medical improvement, which means you have recovered as much as your physicians believe you will ever recover.
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Filing a Jones Act Lawsuit
If you want to obtain maintenance and cure payments or additional compensation for your maritime injuries, call a Jones Act attorney at Begum Law Group today. We will help you through the process of bringing a Jones Act lawsuit.
The legal process includes:
- Filing the complaint in the federal court with proper jurisdiction;
- Serving your employer (who is the defendant);
- Waiting for your employer to file an answer;
- Attending the first court hearing;
- Using the discovery process to obtain more information through requests for documents, interrogatories, and depositions;
- Reviewing and analyzing all potential evidence;
- Hiring expert witnesses;
- Attending a preliminary conference;
- Settling a date for trial;
- Participating in settlement negotiations;
- If a resolution is not reached, go to trial;
- Receive a jury verdict;
- Enforce a settlement or jury verdict in your favor;
- Appeal a jury verdict in favor of your employer.
A majority of Jones Act claims are settled outside of court. You rarely need to go to trial, even though you must file the lawsuit. However, at Begum Law Group, we are not afraid to go to trial. If your employer and their maritime insurer refuse to settle or to participate in good faith negotiations, then we will aggressively defend your rights before a judge and jury.
The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act
You should not confuse the Jones Act with the LHWCA. The Jones Act protects sailors and seamen, while the LHWCA pertains to most other maritime workers, including dock workers, harbor workers, and longshoremen. Their rights under the longshore act are far more similar to a traditional workers’ compensation claim. They are entitled to have their medical expenses covered after an accident and to receive disability payments.