Who Qualifies as a Seaman in Maritime Lawsuits?

The Jones Act and general maritime law provide compensation when a seaman is injured on the job. Yet, there are set criteria in place in order to be considered a seaman under the Jones Act, and there are also laws that define the type of vessel the seaman must work on in order to obtain benefits.


The Basics of a Seaman

Most people that work in the maritime industry, whether as a processor, on the deck crew, or more, are considered seamen. However, not all of these people will be able to file for damages in the event of an injury. Seamen who can benefit from the Jones Act include those that spent a large amount of time working on a vessel in navigable waters. In addition, injuries and accidents must have happened while on the job.

How Much Time Must a Seaman Work on a Vessel?

According to general maritime law and the Jones Act, the seaman must spend a “significant amount of working time” on a vessel. A significant amount time equals at least 30% of a seaman’s total working time. For instance, someone who works in the administrative office of a maritime company and only goes on a vessel a few times a year will probably not qualify for damages. Yet, someone who only spends 20% of their time in an office and the rest aboard a vessel while working will more than likely have no problems meeting the Jones Act requirements for a seaman.

A Seaman’s Contribution to the Work of the Vessel

In addition to spending a significant amount of time on a vessel, a seaman’s qualifications are also determined by the type of contribution made to the work of a vessel. In layman’s terms, this means that the seaman’s job duties must directly benefit the vessel. Although it seems that most people who work on a vessel contribute to the work of the vessel, the Supreme Court adopted something known as the “Robinson/Barrett Approach,” which mandates that seaman must play a contribution to the function of the vessel on water, meaning land-based maritime workers will not qualify. However, the worker’s contribution to the vessel on navigable waters is broad, and can include workers who not only contribute directly but also those who don’t contribute directly to the vessel’s functions, such as:

  • Cooks
  • Barbers
  • Maids
  • Clerks
  • Musicians
  • Bartenders

Vessel Requirements

Under the Jones Act, seamen who are injured must have been working on a vessel that is considered navigable. Navigable vessels cover a range of scenarios, and don’t have to actually be out to sea to qualify. Navigable waters is a broad term in the maritime industry, but essentially means that the vessel must least be on water and capable of movement in water in order for a seaman to qualify for damages under the Jones Act.

For example, if you’re working on a boat that’s tied to a dock but still fully capable of going out to sea, then this is considered a navigable vessel. However, if you’re working on a vessel that’s still being built and not quite ready for the water, then you typically won’t qualify for damages, at least under the Jones Act.

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