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Jones Act Injury Claims in Washington State

Updated on: 11/19/2019

The Jones Act, also known as the Merchant Marine Act, was named after its sponsor, Washington state senator Wesley Livsey Jones. The purpose of the act is to regulate shipping within U.S. coastal waters and between U. S. Ports. In addition to the regulation of waters, the act was a significant for employees working on ships because it allowed them to file legal claims if they became ill or were injured on the job. Prior to the passing of the act employees working on the ship were not able to file legal claims for injuries or sickness caused by the negligence of their employers, other seamen, or the vessels that they were on, even if their injury was caused by the vessel or another party.

About The Jones Act and Seamen’s Rights

The inherent dangers of working on a moving water vessel increase the risk of illness or injury. If an employee’s injuries were caused by the “unworthiness” of the vessel or the negligence of another party on the vessel, the Jones Act provides the employee with the right to file a legal claim against their employer to receive compensation for their recovery. The Jones Act states:

“any sailor who shall suffer personal injury in the course of his employment may, at his election, maintain an action for damages at law, with the right to trial by a jury and in such action all statutes of the united states modifying or extending the common-law right or remedy in cases of personal injury railway employees shall apply …”

Who is Protected Under the Jones Act?

Employees who are classified as “seamen” are protected under the Jones Act. Due to the vagueness of the definition and qualifications of a “seaman” under the Jones Act, courts apply the dentition used  under of maritime law. Maritime Law defines a seaman as an employee working on a ship or water vessel that contributes to the vessels objectives. Extensive examination of the employees’ position and employment history while working on the vessel will determine whether or not their work contributes to the objectives of the vessel.

Injuries Covered Under the Jones Act?

Any injury or illness that occurs on the vessel and is a result of negligence is covered by the Jones Act. This includes Injuries and illnesses that occur while the employee is off duty due to the fact that they cannot leave the vessel while it is at sea.

What Must Plaintiffs Prove?

In order to have a viable Jones Act claim, a plaintiff - maritime worker, seaman, etc. - is required to prove that:

  • They have sustained an injury;
  • The plaintiff's injury occurred while the employee was permanently assigned to a commercial vessel on navigable waterway;
  • And that the injury was caused by the negligence of another party on the vessel  or the “unseaworthiness” of the vessel.


In order to file a successful legal claim under the Jones act, the plaintiff must show that his or her injuries were either caused by (a) direct negligence of another party on the vessel, or (b) the “unseaworthiness” of the vessel itself caused their injury. There has to be significant evidence showing that their employer breached their duty of responsibility in adequately providing a safe work environment for the employee.

What Are the Employer's Responsibilities?

If and when the proper safety precautions are taken, most maritime workers' injuries can be avoided. Given this information, the employer has the responsibility to ensure that their vessels are safe for their employees. The courts refer to this as “reasonable care”. If an employer is using “reasonable care”, they are taking all precautions to avoid causing illness or injury to their employees. Each claim that is filled will seek to determine whether or not the employer was using “reasonable care.”

Can I file a claim under the Jones Act?

If you or a loved one has suffered from an injury on a water vessel as a result of the negligence of an employer or an unseaworthy vessel, contact us at the Davis Law Group (206) 727-4000 to hear about your legal options. Our award winning Washington personal injury attorneys have over 20 years of experience in successfully handling personal injury and wrongful death claims.  Our case investigators are available 24/7 at (206) 727-4000 and able to take your call any time that is convenient for you.   

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