Maritime employees inherit a great deal of occupational risk due to their constant exposure to dangerous working conditions and hazards. And while all employees are protected to some extent under workers’ compensation laws and insurance, the Jones Act provides even more extensive coverage and protection specifically to employees in the maritime industry.
The Jones Act – also called the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 – was enacted in June of 1920. Prior to the enactment of the Jones Act, seaman’s rights were not afforded by common international maritime law. The enactment of the Jones Act allows seamen to bring legal actions against ship owners based on claims of unseaworthiness or negligence, which was not originally allowed by common maritime law.
Who Qualifies as a Jones Act Seaman?
There has been a lot of debate over how to determine whether an employee is classified as a Jones Act seaman. In the case of Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis (1995), the Supreme Court made a ruling that now serves as the benchmark for determining if a maritime employee is in fact a Jones Act seaman. In the Supreme Court’s ruling, it was determined that:
“The worker’s duties must contribute to the function of the vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission, and the worker must have a connection to a vessel in navigation (or an identifiable fleet of vessels) that is substantial in terms of both its duration and its nature.”
To clarify the Supreme Court’s ruling, any worker who spends less than 30 percent of his/her time in the service of a vessel on navigable waters is presumed not to be a seaman under the Jones Act.
Legal Action for Injured Workers Under the Jones Act
Another aspect of the Jones Act that differentiates the personal injury process from a typical workers’ compensation case is the fact that if any action is brought under the Jones Act in federal court or state court, the plaintiff is entitled to a jury trial. Common maritime law does not normally afford this right in the absence of a statute that specifically authorizes it.
If you believe that you or a loved one may potentially have rights to a Jones Act claim, you should consult with a personal injury attorney with experience in Jones Act lawsuits. The Davis Law Group provides free legal consultations and case evaluations to people who believe they may have rights to a claim.
Call our office in downtown Seattle today at 206-727-4000 or contact us online.