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The Jones Act: What Is It, Why It Was Passed, and Who It Protects

Posted in Get To Know Maritime Law on August 12, 2015

What Is the Jones Act?

The Jones Act was first enacted at a federal level in 1920. It is, essentially, an act that allows people who work offshore to sue an employer after a work-related injury. Unlike the majority of people who work on land, seamen are not protected by worker’s compensation or other administrations. Before the Jones Act, seamen had no recourse for injuries sustained at work. To fill this legislative gap, the Jones Act enables seamen to recover damages through the Act and through general maritime law.

Who Is Protected Under the Jones Act?

Under the Jones Act, most seamen are protected. A seaman is defined as any person, whether he or she is a crewman or captain of a vessel, who spends a substantial amount of time working on that vessel. To be considered a part-time seaman under the Jones Act, you must spend at least 30% of your total working time on the vessel. The vessel must be considered “navigable.” Though it does not have to be moving at the time of injury, it must have the capability of moving and docking and be on navigable waters. Therefore, vessels that are dry-docked or that are out of the water on blocks are not considered eligible under the Jones Act.

How Does the Jones Act Protect Seamen?

Unlike worker’s compensation law, which follows a no-fault rule, the Jones Act hinges on negligence. It allows for injured seamen to sue their employers and recover damages. If you are a seaman who suffers an injury, you must prove negligence in the following ways:

  • The employer was responsible for providing you with a reasonably safe place to work.
  • The employer was expected to provide ordinary care to maintain the vessel and keep it safe.
  • The employer neglected to fulfill those responsibilities, which led to your injury.
  • Your injury has real and assessable damage.

Under the Jones Act, the employer may be held responsible for the negligence of any and all employees, including the captain and co-workers. So even if another seaman’s behavior caused your injury, you can still sue your employer. The Jones Act also differs from regular personal injury cases in that the “burden of proof” is lower. Traditional negligence cases require that the plaintiff prove the employer’s negligence played a significant part in the injury. Usually this number is a certain percentage. Under the Jones Act, however, an employer can play as little as 1% part in the injury and still be considered liable.

The Jones Act protects many types of maritime injuries. Some of the more common acts of negligence we see are:

  • Grease/oil left on the deck
  • Improperly maintained or broken equipment
  • Unsafe work methods or improper training
  • The employer’s failure to provide proper equipment

Jones Act Attorneys Keith Lapeze and Chris Johns specialize in maritime and offshore injury laws. We are nationwide maritime attorneys and work with clients throughout Texas, Louisiana, the Gulf Coast, and other coastal regions of the United States. We have spent over 30 years as trial lawyers practicing maritime law. We fight for oil workers, longshoreman, seamen, and any other people hurt while working offshore. Because seamen are not protected by any administration while offshore, they must file a state or federal lawsuit to reclaim the compensation should receive in the event of an injury. Contact us at Lapeze & Johns PLLC to learn more about the Jones Act and determine if you are able to file a negligence claim. We will listen and work with you to recover the compensation you need.