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Injuries to Sailors & Seamen (Jones Act)

When you work on the water, seeking damages for on-the-job injuries is different than other kinds of lawsuits.

For most employees, workers’ compensation is an appropriate remedy for workplace injuries. That’s not the case for sailors, seamen, and others who make their living shipboard. Instead, these employees must rely on a federal law known as the Jones Act, for their compensation.

What Is the Jones Act?

The Jones Act is a comprehensive United States statute that regulates commerce in our nation’s waters and between our ports. Additionally, it empowers injured sailors to recover compensation for unseaworthiness and any negligence committed by a ship’s owner, captain, or fellow crew members, mirroring the protections afforded to railroad workers under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act.

What Kinds of Workers Does the Jones Act Cover?

Not everyone who works onboard a watercraft qualifies for protection. Under the Jones Act, a seaman who seeks to bring a civil action is defined as a worker who:

  • Spends at least 30% of his or her total employment time on a vessel or a specific fleet of vessels.
  • Contributes to the work of the vessel and the accomplishment of its mission.

Does the Type of Vessel Make a Difference to a Jones Act Claim?

The size, cargo, number of workers, or commercial purpose has no impact on a seamen’s claim for injuries under the Jones Act.  The only requirement is that the vessel on which the seaman works at the time of the injury must be “in navigation,” meaning that it is:

  • Afloat and capable of moving (including while docked or moored, but not in drydock)
  • In operation (under its own power or under sail)
  • On navigable waters (including oceans, rivers, and inland lakes shared by two or more states or linked to other navigable bodies of water

What Damages Does the Jones Act Contemplate?

Unlike other personal injury lawsuits, the seaman must only prove that the employer’s negligence – however small – contributed to his or her injuries. Once this threshold is met, the plaintiff can recover for:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Expenses related to medical care, treatment, and rehabilitation costs
  • Lost wages and benefits
  • Loss of enjoyment of life

In tragic cases where the employer’s negligence causes the seaman’s death, the family can also sue under the Jones Act to recover for the loss of economic benefits.

Sommers Schwartz’s accomplished litigators have experience in a broad range of personal injuries, along with knowledge and experience in statutory actions such as Jones Act lawsuits. If you earn your income on the water, and a shipboard injury has placed your health and your livelihood at risk, please contact us today to discuss your situation and the ways that we can help.

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