The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, which is commonly referred to as the Jones Act, is a federal law that allows seamen to sue their employers for on-the-job injuries caused by negligence on the part of vessel owners, companies, shipmasters, or fellow crew members. The Jones Act was closely based on the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) of 1908, which covers railroad employees; it was tailored to fit the needs of maritime workers. The act was issued by Congress because standard workers’ compensation rules do not apply to seamen.
In contrast to laws that regulate liability and negligence for non-maritime workers, the Jones Act makes it relatively easy for qualified seamen to sue their employers if they are hurt while working on a vessel belonging to American owners and operators.
Jones Act Basics: Liability, Qualifications, and Limitations
Per admiralty or maritime law, a plaintiff’s burden of proof is lower than that of a standard personal injury lawsuit. The employer is still at fault under the Jones Act’s “featherweight” causality rules, even if the seaman contributed in some way to the injury. The degree of the defendant’s responsibility in comparison to the seamen only affects the size of the financial compensation, not the issue of who is at fault.
Keep in mind that you must be a qualified seaman in order to file a lawsuit under the Jones Act. If you are employed by a vessel owner or shipping company, you must spend at least 30% of your time working on that vessel or as a member of its fleet. Temporary workers or outside contractors, even if they are trained to work on any type of water-borne craft, are not considered seamen per Jones Act regulations. For instance, if you are an electronics engineer employed by an outside contractor to repair a ship’s electronic navigation systems, you’re not a seaman.
Furthermore, in order to be considered a seaman, your job must contribute to the function of the vessel. This covers a wide array of areas, including barbers, chefs, fishermen, crew members, musicians, operators, and more. Regardless of the job function, the main requirement is your contribution to the function of the vessel.
In addition, there are strict limitations on what type of craft can be considered a vessel under the Jones Act. For instance, a fishing boat that travels out to sea and goes from one port to another qualifies as a vessel per the Jones Act. A cruise ship that is docked in port but is operable and on navigable waters also qualifies. However, a vessel permanently attached to a sea floor with no intentions of ever navigating does not qualify, no matter if it is equipped with working engines and navigation gear.
How to Properly Prepare For a Jones Act Case
Before pursuing a Jones Act lawsuit, do everything you need to prepare your case after you recover from your work-related injuries. Even if you think you can handle the situation, it is important to never rush into anything when you are under medication and/or not thinking clearly. Use your recovery time to organize all the documents you will need.
The list of important documentation includes the relevant incident reports filed by you and your employer, the ships’ logs, and records of all the medical treatment you received under the “maintenance and care” provision of the admiralty law. Do not give any statements to representatives from the defendant’s insurance agency; talk to a maritime law attorney first.
What You Can Expect if You Win Your Jones Act Lawsuit
Although each Jones Act lawsuit case is different and each outcome is unique, you can generally expect compensation for the following:
- Lost wages, if the employer is found at least partially at fault
- Medical costs and expenses, including surgery, rehabilitation, medical supplies, medication, and more
- Permanent disfigurement (if applicable), including hearing loss, eye loss, and/or loss of limbs
- Mental and emotional trauma
- Lost earnings capacity
- Past and future economic loss
- Physical pain and suffering
- Loss of ability to enjoy life and/or take care of common tasks that were performed prior to the accident
However, keep in mind that the compensation amount will vary according to each case.
Jones Act Lawsuit Funding
Because Jones Act cases are complex and obtaining compensation as a result of a judgment or settlement can take a long time, you may wish to consider an option known as Jones Act lawsuit funding. This is a loan against your prospective award or settlement. Many respectable companies provide these cash advances if your case meets certain criteria.
The Jones Act lawsuit funding helps injured maritime workers have enough funding for living expenses and other costs while awaiting a settlement or trial, but the upfront cash is almost always paid back to the lender with interest. It is always best to discuss the pros and cons with your Jones Act lawyer before making a decision to get a lawsuit funding loan. Keep in mind that although upfront money may help you during trying times, the Jones Act lawsuit funding companies are a business, and like most businesses, they aim to make a profit.
Statute of Limitations for Jones Act Lawsuits
While it is not necessary to rush into a Jones Act suit, you can not let too much time pass between the accident and filing a claim in court. There is a three-year statute of limitations to file a Jones Act suit. It is imperative that you begin the process as soon as you recover physically and psychologically from your injuries. The Jones Act is more employee-oriented than other workmen’s compensation laws, but maritime law cases are often complicated and in some cases, may take years to resolve.
Additional Resources and Information on the Jones Act and Maritime Injuries
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