The Jones Act, also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, is one of the most critical laws for seamen who have been injured on the job. The Act is designed to support an active and healthy maritime industry in the U.S. The Jones Act has been revised many times, with critics calling for it to be repealed.
The Rights of Seamen
One of the most important provisions of the Jones Act is to maintain the rights of seamen on duty and to protect them in the case of injury while working. The Act mandates that seamen be provided with adequate and reasonable food, shelter, and medical care while working aboard a maritime vessel.
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Employers are also expected to provide care for seamen injured on the job, whether from negligence or unseaworthiness. If that is not offered, the seaman has the right to file a claim for damages according to the Jones Act.
Who Is Protected by the Jones Act?
The law protects all seamen, defined as those men and women working most of the time aboard a vessel or contributing to the function of a maritime vessel. The right to claim applies to seamen injured while on navigable waters. This could include:
- Anyone in any other working position aboard the vessel
The qualification that the vessel must be on navigable waters leaves some maritime workers out of the rights of the Jones Act. For instance, someone working on a vessel not on the water but on land being built or repaired does not qualify as a seaman under the Act.
A qualified seaman must spend at least 30 percent of their working time aboard a vessel in navigable waters. Other statutes under maritime law protect these other workers not qualified for the law.
What Is Included in a Jones Act Claim?
If a qualified seaman is covered, they may file a claim to seek damages and compensation. The law states that a seaman must file that claim within seven days of an injury. It is best to file a claim immediately after an accident.
Injuries should also be reported directly to a Captain, supervisor, or manager. The claim process also requires that an official maritime accident report be filed detailing the accident or injury.
Pain and Suffering Claims
Several things can be claimed by an injured seaman according to the Jones Act, including damages for pain and suffering. This may include both physical and mental pain and suffering.
The law does not set a guideline for exactly how much in damages a seaman should receive for physical or psychological suffering. Each case is treated individually, and damages are considered and awarded depending on the particular details.
Lost Wages Claims
If you cannot work because of your injury, you can seek damages for the earnings you lose as a result. Claims can be made to receive pay for present lost wages, reduced future earning capacity, and benefits like 401k contributions, pensions, and accumulated vacation time.
Medical Costs Claims
Injured seamen may have extensive medical bills due to a maritime accident, and this is another type of claim that can be made according to the Jones Act. If you are injured, you can claim current expenses and anticipated future medical expenses that may be needed due to the injury. Claims may include transportation costs for treatment, rehabilitation, surgery, occupational therapy, physical therapy, mental health care, and any equipment needed because of the injury.
Punitive Damages Claims
In the case that a vessel was found to be known by the employer to be unseaworthy or the employer was recklessly negligent in some way, and this resulted in an accident and injury to a seaman, that worker may claim punitive damages in addition to any medical costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering claims.
It is not as easy to win damages like these as it has to be proven that the employer showed reckless disregard for employees and their safety.
Wrongful Death Claims
If a seaman dies aboard a vessel, their beneficiaries or dependents can file a Jones Act claim for wrongful death. The lawsuit, if won, may provide dependents with financial support in various forms. The support may be for lost wages, funeral costs, pain and suffering, the seaman’s medical expenses before death, and special costs needed for dependent children.
How Does the Jones Act Support the U.S. Military?
The importance of the Jones Act to the U.S. Military cannot be overstated. The Act includes regulations that force all vessels in the U.S. and in coastal waters to follow American laws. It also pushes for safer and more productive maritime work environments because it requires that employers be held accountable when workers are injured or killed.
Helping to keep the U.S. maritime industry safe, productive, and thriving supports the military because it can be called upon in times of need. The military needs to be able to rely on the ships, terminals, ports, and associated technologies throughout the U.S. if war makes calling on them necessary. The U.S. Navy, in particular, relies on having a private maritime industry ready to be used during wartime.
The Economic Importance of the Jones Act
The fact that the Jones Act supports the maritime industry and ensures that it is strong, productive, and safe is not just important to the military; it is also crucial to the economy. Nearly 40,000 vessels operate under the Jones Act, with half a million jobs and billions of dollars.
Without the Jones Act to protect this industry, a significant component of the economy would be in trouble. Without the Act, the costs of overseeing the industry, of ensuring that ships follow U.S. law and keep maritime environments safe, would fall to the Department of Homeland Security at a tremendous financial cost.