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Injured at sea? The Jones Act can help you recover compensation

By Michael Shelton on June 01, 2017

If you are injured while working aboard a vessel, your legal remedies are not the same as those enjoyed by workers on land. This is due in a large part to historical precedent. Admiralty law traditionally imposed a duty on the owner of the vessel to take care of the workers injured while aboard. The owner was under a legal obligation to provide "maintenance and cure," or payment of living and medical expenses, during the voyage and after the ship had returned to land. In the early 20thcentury, Congress increased obligations that ship owners owed to seamen by passing the Jones Act.

How does the Jones Act work?

Traditional admiralty law disallowed an injured seaman's claim for negligence unless the ship was deemed to be unseaworthy. However, the Jones Act eliminated this requirement. Under the act, a seaman may sue their employer for negligence if he or she is injured or killed by the employer's negligence while working on the vessel, even if the employer's negligence is only slight.

In addition to maintenance and cure benefits, the act permits a seaman to recover expenses resulting from the injury such as lost wages, pain and suffering, present and future medical expenses and loss of earning capacity. If the seaman was killed due to negligence during the voyage, certain survivors are permitted to file a wrongful death lawsuit under the act.

To whom does the act apply?

The Jones Act protections only apply to seamen. There is no clear definition of seamen in the act, so courts decide the issue on a case-by-case basis. In some cases, determining whether the injured party qualifies as a seaman is a tricky process.

Despite the ambiguity, courts have generally held that longshoremen, dockworkers and land-based workers who service ships are not seamen under the act. Other decisions have required the worker to contribute to the function and mission of the vessel in order to be considered a seaman.

What are the requirements for a claim?

Injured seamen must meet certain requirements before they can file a claim. For example, the seamen must be injured on a vessel. In general courts have defined "vessel" as a watercraft that is used or may be used for transportation on water. As a result, offshore oil rigs that are anchored to the earth's surface generally do not qualify as a vessel under the act. However, floating oil rigs are considered to be vessels.

In addition, the seaman's injury must occur within the course of his or her employment. Generally, any injury that occurs while the seamen is within the service of the ship falls within the seaman's scope of employment. This can include certain instances where the seaman is ashore.

Consult an attorney

This is just a summary of the main protections and requirements of the Jones Act, as it is quite complex and full of exceptions. If you have been injured while performing your duties aboard a ship, an attorney who is experienced in handling Jones Act claims can help you recover all compensation due to you under the law.

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