Jones Act and Negligence

Among its many provisions, the Jones Act strictly defines and regulates the relationship between seamen and employers aboard U.S. vessels. An important aspect of Jones Act rules deals with seamen’s rights in cases when job-related injuries are caused by negligence. Before the Jones Act was enacted, seamen had no legal way to get compensation if a ship’s owner, captain, or another seaman’s negligent actions caused them to get hurt while on the job.

Workers’ Compensation vs. Jones Act

Unlike workers in other fields of work, seamen are usually not covered under workers’ compensation insurance. They are, however, entitled to file personal injury claims against their employer under the same laws that cover railroad employees. When it was passed in 1920, the Jones Act allowed seamen to have the same legal recourse granted to train workers by the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). Per admiralty law, injured seamen can sue for negligence damages if they can prove their employer did not provide a safe work environment or gave improper orders that caused the accident.

What Constitutes Negligence Under the Jones Act?

The Jones Act considers negligence to occur when:

  • Someone does an action that a normally prudent person would not do
  • Someone fails to do something that a normally prudent person would do
  • Someone fails to take reasonable care to avoid being injured or causing injury to others

Even though working on any vessel involves certain risks, the Jones Act requires all maritime employers based in the United States to make sure that seamen work in a safe environment. Whether the ship is at sea or moored in port on navigable waters, the Jones Act requires employers to:

  • Make sure that a vessel’s deck is free of dangerous obstacles, unsecured cargo, or slippery substances, such as oil and grease
  • Ensure that every piece of equipment aboard is kept in good working condition and inspected regularly for possible defects
  • Make sure that every crew member aboard has the proper training and qualifications
  • Ensure that the vessel carries the tools and other materials necessary for the crew to work properly
  • Prevent physical confrontations between crew members
  • Make sure that the vessel avoids storms and other hazardous weather conditions
  • Create and implement operating procedures that emphasize safety as well as efficiency

Seamen can also file a suit claiming negligence on the part of an employer if:

  • Overtime is required constantly
  • Improper orders are issued
  • Proper supervision is not provided
  • Proper medical assistance is not given
  • Proper rescue is not provided in case of accident

Causation in Jones Act Cases

The Jones Act has a relatively low burden of proof for seamen making a negligence claim against an employer. This legal concept is known as causation. In Jones Act cases, all a plaintiff has to show is the slightest evidence that negligence played some part in causing his injuries. The amount of the employer’s responsibility is not relevant. Even if the seaman is partially at fault or if there were other contributing factors that led to the injuries, any negligence on the part of the defendant can be taken under account.

This standard of evidence is known as “featherweight” causation because it doesn’t require a heavy burden of proof for the seaman making a claim.This makes Jones Act negligence cases different from standard personal injury lawsuits. In most personal injury cases, such as car accident lawsuits, the burden of proof for the plaintiff is higher.

Additional Resources

For additional information regarding the Jones Act, refer to our articles Jones Act Lawyer and Jones Act Lawsuit.