The Jones Act, also referred to as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, is a federal statute that protects United States merchant marines in the event of an injury. It also regulates laws between United States ports and waterways. The Jones Act has gone through several revisions. The most recent revision, in 2006, is the most current statute.
Seaman’s Rights Under the Jones Act
Under 46 U.S.C. § 30104, Congress officially mandated rules under the Jones Act that protects seamen in the event of negligence, injuries, and unseaworthiness. For example, if a seaman is injured while at sea and the employer doesn’t provide medical care, which is mandated by law, he is protected under the Jones Act and has the legal right to file a claim. Seamen can be at sea for days and even weeks on end, and must be provided the necessary food, medical care, and shelter.
In addition, the Jones Act protects seamen if the vessel they are employed on is considered “unseaworthy.” Unseaworthy vessels fall under maritime law which has its own set of rules that constitute what makes a vessel unseaworthy. A vessel that doesn’t operate properly isn’t always the sole reason that it can be considered unseaworthy. For example, a vessel can also be unseaworthy if the seamen were not provided the proper safety precautions while at work and/or the correct tools and equipment to use while working. In other words, the vessel may operate properly, but it can still be deemed unseaworthy if employees are put in danger because of employer negligence and carelessness.
Qualifications to File a Jones Act Claim
According to federal law, in order to file a claim under the Jones Act, plaintiffs must first be seamen, meaning they spend a large amount of time (at least 30%) working in and on a vessel. The vessel must have been in navigation when the injuries occurred, which means it must have been in operation, afloat, and capable of movement on water. Keep in mind, however, the vessel doesn’t necessarily have to be moving before a claim under the Jones Act can be filed. It can be tied by dock or even mooring, but it has to be capable of navigation. For more in-depth information on the qualifications to file a Jones Act Claim, visit our Who Qualifies Under The Jones Act? page.
Claims Process for Jones Act
Qualified seamen are allotted a certain amount of time to file their claims in order to be covered under the Jones Act. By federal law, Jones Act claims must be filed within seven days of the injury, but it’s highly recommended to file immediately after the accident. You should also report the any injuries as soon as possible to your Captain or supervisor. In addition, your Captain or supervisor must, per federal law, notate and file your accident report, called a “Report of Marine Accident.” For more information on the claims process, visit our Claims Process for Jones Act page.
Compensation Under the Jones Act
The Jones Act covers several different areas of compensation and is formulated off of the Federal Employment Liability Act (FELA). If you’ve been injured, typical compensation may include:
- Lost wages
- Lost earning capacity
- Medical expenses
- Pain and suffering (including physical and psychological)
- Physical disability
- Fringe benefits within a reasonable amount
- Reasonable value of food and shelter
For more specific information, including what each type of compensation entails, see our Compensation Under Jones Act article.
Jones Act Negligence
In order to receive compensation under the Jones Act, you must first prove the negligence was the result of the injuries or that your injuries was the cause of another party. In order to prove negligence, at least one of the following factors must be met:
- An action is done that an otherwise reasonable person wouldn’t do
- Failure to take action which should have reasonably been taken
- Failure to take reasonable precaution that would have prevented injuries to others
Additionally, constant overtime, failure to supervise workers properly, and failure to provide the proper medical assistance and rescue are all considered negligent acts performed by a supervisor, Captain, and/or employer. For more detailed information on what constitutes negligence under the Jones Act, visit our Jones Act Negligence page.
Filing a Jones Act Lawsuit
Qualified seaman can file a Jones Act Lawsuit for injuries, unseaworthiness, and negligence as long as certain criteria are met. In addition to the aforementioned requirements of what constitutes a seaman, those planning to file suit must also:
- Complete all medical treatment for the job related injury or injuries and save all medical records
- Wait until all the medical treatment is finished to find out if returning to work is possible
- If unable to return to work, a seaman must decide between settling a claim or filing a suit
- Evaluate the potential settlement value of the case, especially if it exceeds an amount of between $15,000 and $20,000
- Hire an attorney with experience in admiralty law and Jones Act cases if the seaman’s employer or the company’s insurer is not making maintenance and care payments
- File the lawsuit in the nearest state or federal court
If a seaman files a Jones Act lawsuit, the wait time for most courts to take a case to trial can be between 14 and 16 months. Jones Act cases are complex and the caseload in many courts is heavy. Since admiralty law is usually under the jurisdiction of the state or federal justice system, Jones Act cases are not tried in local courts. For more details on how to file Jones Act lawsuits, visit our Jones Act Lawsuit page.
What to Look for in a Jones Act Lawyer
Before you retain the legal services of a Jones Act lawyer, it’s important to evaluate each potential lawyer thoroughly to ensure that you have the best match possible for your case. The following suggestions should always be considered before you decide who’ll represent you.
Experience and Knowledge
Jones Act lawyers different from general practice lawyers in that they specifically specialize in maritime-related cases. In addition, a Jones Act lawyer should have extensive experience in representing other seamen who have filed Jones Act lawsuits. Furthermore, the attorney should be knowledgeable in all aspects of general maritime law. Keep in mind that a Jones Act lawsuit is extremely intricate and comes with its own set of federal and state statutes. An attorney who isn’t knowledgeable of these laws may not be able to help you take advantage of laws that apply to you if they aren’t fully aware of them.
Most Jones Act cases are litigated in court before a settlement amount is reached. When you file a Jones Act claim, your employer will usually retain a defense attorney who will try everything to get their client out of paying you. Consequently, a myriad of motions may need to be filed in court and several opposing arguments may take place. You’ll need a Jones Attorney who is an experienced litigator that can handle these difficult details.
A Jones Act lawsuit can get exceptionally expensive. Medical experts and medical proof alone can get pricey and typically need to be taken care of beforehand in order to establish proof of your injuries. This may require obtaining several different medical opinions and various medical tests. In addition, various occupational and safety experts may also be needed to establish your case. All these different types of expenses need to be handled prior to the trial or settlement negotiation, yet most seamen don’t have the money it takes until after they’ve been compensated for their case. As a result, you’ll need a Jones Act lawyer that has the financial backing to help prove your case.
Questions to Ask a Jones Act Attorney
The following questions will help you decide which Jones Act attorney is best suited to handle your case:
- Do you specifically specialize in maritime cases?
- How long have you been a Jones Act lawyer?
- How many Jones Act cases have you successfully handled?
- Are you an experienced trial litigator?
- Will you be the one handling my case (some attorneys transfers cases to more suitable lawyers)?
- Do you work on a contingent fee basis?
If you or a loved one has been injured in a maritime accident, you need an attorney who not only knows the complexities of general admiralty law but also those of the Jones Act. Experience, commitment to a client’s case, attention to detail, and sharp courtroom skills are a maritime attorney’s most valuable assets. In addition to being able to compete against an employer’s legal team during litigation, the best maritime attorney must be able to use a wide array of resources to help you receive the compensation you deserve for your work-related injuries.