Jones Act

Established in 1920 and revised in 2006, the Jones Act is a federal statute for the United States that provides the laws and regulations for U.S. waters and ports. The Jones Act was established as a way to protect seamen in ways that land-based laws don’t provide as well as protect the shipping industry and the growth of commerce.

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The Jones Act and Seaman Protection


Land-based employees are protected under laws that most seamen are not. For example, maritime workers typically will not qualify for federal or state-based workers’ compensation after being injured. Since seamen are unable to file for benefits after employer negligence the way land-based employees can, part of the Jones Act was created to help maritime workers recover damages from accidents and injuries.


Injured seamen who are protected under the Jones Act can include a myriad of different professions, including:

  • Fishermen
  • Cooks
  • Stewards
  • Bartenders
  • Deckhands
  • Engineers
  • Mates
  • Captains
  • Drillers
  • Pilots
  • Divers
  • Anchors

Anyone who works on navigable waters and contributes to the work of a vessel for at least 30% of their work time in navigable waters is usually protected under The Jones Act.

Navigable Waters and The Jones Act

Seamen must work on navigable waters in order to be protected by the Jones Act, meaning their main job function must be offshore or on a vessel that’s moored to a dock but capable of navigating on water. In other words, the vessel must be “in navigation,” meaning that it’s not being built, its construction has been completed, and it is being used for work purposes. A vessel that’s being repaired still counts as a vessel that’s “in navigation” since it’s usually still on the water, yet docked.

Contribution to the Work of the Vessel

Contributing to the work of the vessel is a tricky definition as any seamen who works on a vessel, regardless of job function, is contributing to the work of the vessel. However, this term is often confusing to be taken to mean that the employee must somehow contribute to the working “function” of the vessel, whereas it actually means anyone who works on a vessel in navigable waters is contributing. As mentioned earlier, this can include barbers, bartenders, cooks, stewards, and more.

The only instances in which someone may not be considered part of the contribution to the work of a vessel is if, for example, a member of the ship’s office administration (who normally doesn’t contribute to the vessel’s goals in water) happens to be on the vessel one day and happens to get injured while aboard.

Examples of Negligence Covered Under The Jones Act

It’s important to note that The Jones Act doesn’t provide benefits to seamen who were injured through no fault of anyone else. For example, if you’re working aboard a vessel while intoxicated and have an accident, there is a good chance that the accident will be proven to be through faults of your own actions. However, if injuries are a result of employer negligence, seamen are protected. Common examples of employer negligence include:

  • Lack of proper safety training before allowing seamen to perform duties
  • Failure to perform regular check-ups on equipment and parts
  • Failure to repair malfunctioning equipment and parts
  • Failure to provide workers with the proper safety gear
  • Failure to ensure warning signs are placed in hazardous areas
  • Failure to ensure vessel decks contain no-skid surfaces
  • Failure to provide a seaworthy vessel

Compensation and Benefits Covered Under The Jones Act

Compensation under the Jones Act is covered in three sections: loss of earnings, medical expenses, and pain and suffering. In some instances, punitive damages may also apply, depending upon the circumstances surrounding the case.

Loss of Earnings

Lost earnings not only cover present earnings but the loss of earning capacity in the future, including the likelihood of pay raises and occupational advancements. It also includes employee benefits such as vacation time, 401K, and/or pensions. It’s relatively easy to figure out current lost earnings, but determining future lost earnings usually entails an economic expert calculating future cost of living expenses as well as what the average pay would be for the employee in the future, including any potential promotions that would have potentially been available if not for the injury.

Medical Expenses

Under the Jones Act, injured seamen are covered not only for present medical expenses, but anticipated future medical expenses as well, which can include exams, medication, X-rays, travel expenses to doctor’s appointments, physical therapy, rehabilitation, specialized equipment, surgery, counseling, mental health treatment, and more.

Pain and Suffering

Pain and suffering under the Jones Act entail both mental anguish and physical pain. For instance, statistics show that the majority of people who undergo an amputation, especially as a result of a traumatic accident, will more than likely experience extreme mental anguish, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

There usually isn’t a set guideline that determines how much a seaman is entitled to for pain and suffering. Several factors will come into play when determining the compensation amount, including the extent and severity of the injuries, the physical pain involved, and the extent of the mental anguish that was caused due to the injury.

Punitive Damages

In some instances, seamen may be eligible for punitive damages in addition to the aforementioned types of compensation. The United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals mandated that punitive damages are allowed in Jones Act cases if employers were found to willfully and recklessly break their duty in providing a seaworthy vessel to employees. It must be proven that there was indeed a knowing and reckless disregard for employee safety in order to recover punitive damages.

For example, some employers may have acted negligently when failing to repair equipment, yet if a mechanic failed to show up to repair the equipment after being hired by the employer; in this instance, there wasn’t willful recklessness. However, if the employer knew the repair had not been taken care of, yet still allowed employees to work on the unsafe equipment, they may be liable for punitive damages.

Additional Information on Maritime Injuries and The Jones Act

If you have been injured, it’s important to understand your legal rights and options, and what you may be entitled to. For more detailed information, we invite you to fill out our Contact Form to receive your free Maritime Injuries guide, packed with pertinent information on the Jones Act, maritime accidents, injuries, and much more.