Jones Act History, Background & Compensation Information

Boats, ships, even canoes have been used to transport goods and services for centuries, and the laws regarding these transactions are nearly as old. This can make legal matters regarding maritime issues incredibly complex due to the myriad international, federal, and state laws addressing these areas. While this may seem overwhelming, particularly if you or someone you love has suffered an injury or an untimely death as a result of their maritime employment, with the right legal guidance you will be able to understand the intricacies of these laws and make the best decisions for your situation.

Maritime Law background

Maritime Law, also referred to as Admiralty Law in the United states, has ties to British maritime laws that were in place during the seventeenth century. The official beginning to American laws on this topic, however, was when the Judiciary Act of 1789 was put into effect. The Judiciary Act placed jurisdiction for admiralty law cases in the hands of federal courts.  However, this is not a universal truth, as the so-called “savings to suitors” clause allows state courts to hear certain maritime cases.

The Jones Act

Another commonly included piece of legislation in any conversation about maritime law is the Jones Act. The Jones Act is officially referred to as section 27 of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920. Although the rights of seamen, or maritime employees, have been recognized internationally for hundreds of years, this law officially codified their rights and protection under the United States judiciary system. The Jones Act has been rewritten and amended many times, with the latest version codified in 2006.

Here are some of the things that you should know about this piece of legislation:

–          Legal suits can be brought before either federal or state courts. At the state level, many lawyers find that protection under the federal laws is more advantageous and encourage their clients to pursue their case in federal court accordingly.

–          In either state or federal court, the plaintiff (the seaman) is entitled to a trial by jury.

–          While the Jones Act bears a good deal of resemblance to other international maritime laws, there is one major exception: The American statute gives seamen the right to pursue legal action against ship owners based on claims of negligence or unseaworthiness. Most international maritime laws do not give employees this option.

–          Generally, the Jones Act applies to anyone who spends at least 30% of their time on a vessel that is in navigation. However, this guideline has been very broadly interpreted in the past, so it is best to consult a legal representative to determine if this includes you or your loved one. If your situation is not covered under the Jones Act, it may be covered under the general maritime law or longshore law.

–          There is a three year statute of limitations for actions filed under the Jones Act. Occasionally, there are exceptions to this statute, but usually only when the ship is owned by the federal government.

Who is entitled to compensation?

One of the most difficult questions when approaching a situation regarding this area of law is whether or not you are entitled to compensation, and if so, under which law. As it is in your employer’s best interest to avoid costly lawsuits and settlements, their lawyer may offer you misleading or inaccurate advice.

People who may be entitled to compensation under state and federal maritime and admiralty laws include:

–          Those who have been injured at work. As referenced above, this generally includes people who spend at least 30% of their work time on a ship that is under navigation. However, you may be surprised to note that this also includes inland river workers and anyone who spends a significant amount of time on floating and movable structures, even those that may not be commonly considered a boat or ship.

–          Those who have been made to sail or work on unseaworthy vessels

–          The loved ones left behind when someone is killed while working on a vessel or due to the unseaworthiness of the vessel.

If you still are not sure if you are included in this group, call a professional. You may be surprised to know that platform workers are covered under these laws if they are injured or killed while conducting activities related to maritime commercial endeavors such as working on the back deck of a boat or unloading supplies; also, certain onshore oil industry employees can be covered depending on the circumstances surrounding their case.

What does compensation entail?

Another tricky question is what exactly is involved in compensation. Is it simply medical costs? Or does it include other costs incurred as a result of the injury?

Depending on your situation, compensation may include any or all of the following:

–          Maintenance and cure. This is a phrase that may be unfamiliar to those who have no background in maritime law, but it refers to the right of every seaman to recover from an injury or illness even if it did not occur on the ship but while he was under service contract for that ship and whether it was his or her own fault or that of the employer. Maintenance includes the costs of room and board that the seaman would have gotten on board the vessel had injury not occurred, and begins the day that the injured or ill party leaves the vessel. Cure refers to medical expenses incurred as a result of the injury or illness.

–          Lost wages. This refers to money you would have earned, had you not been injured by the fault or negligence of your employer. For example, if your injury has caused you to miss work for six months, then you are entitled to six months worth of wages.

–          Pain and suffering. If you have been seriously injured, you may be entitled to payments for other reasonable losses you have suffered. This can be interpreted broadly, and an experienced lawyer will be able to provide you with greater guidance as to how this can be applied to your specific situation.

If you or someone you love has been in an accident while working on a boat or offshore you should consult a maritime attorney with extensive experience in this area of the law.  The New Orleans admiralty lawyers at Greenberg & LaPeyronnie have prosecuted cases in both Louisiana State and U.S. Federal Courts and are available to discuss your case when you are ready.

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