The Jones Act was specifically passed to guarantee protections to maritime workers who have been injured on the job. Although all seamen are entitled to maintenance and cure, in some situations the employer or employer’s insurance company may attempt to provide the injured worker with less than that to which he or she is entitled, even if the employer was clearly negligent in the accident that caused the injury.
In these situations a seaman is able to file a claim under the Jones Act and seek damages for the injury in the form of medical bills, pain and suffering, and other claims. If you have been injured on a vessel or while working in the maritime industry, you could be entitled to more compensation than your employer is offering. To know whether you can file a claim, you need to understand whether or not you qualify. There are specific Jones Act qualifications you need to know before you decide to file a claim.
The Jones Act is only for Seamen
The Jones Act gives seamen the right to sue an employer, or file a claim to get compensation from an employer, in the event of an injury on the job. While there are other laws that ensure seamen get compensation no matter how the injury came about, the Jones Act is specifically for cases in which the employer was negligent and the accident could have been prevented.
There are also other workers’ compensation programs for different kinds of maritime workers, but this law is only for seamen. To know if you meet the Jones Act qualifications you need to understand the legal definition of a seaman. A seaman is anyone who spends a significant amount of on-the-clock working time aboard a seafaring vessel in navigation and whose work contributes to the function of the vessel.
The Jones Act “Significant Amount of Time” Qualification
Part of the definition of a seaman according to the Jones Act is that he or she spends a “significant amount of time” working aboard a seagoing vessel. Although this statement is not specific, and the law does not give an exact proportion of working time aboard a vessel, interpretations have been made and proven in prior cases. Through past litigation it has largely been determined that a significant amount of time is at least 30 percent.
If you spend at least 30 percent of your working hours on a vessel and are injured on that vessel, you are considered a seaman. You can also qualify as a seaman if your working hours aboard any vessel within a fleet amounts to at least 30 percent. This means that if your employer has more than one vessel and you split your minimum of 30 percent between two or three of them, you still qualify as a seaman. You still qualify under the definition if you spend a significant amount of time working aboard a fleet of vessels, as opposed to just one vessel.
The Jones Act “In Navigation” Qualification
Spending a significant amount of your working time aboard a vessel is just one part of the qualification definition for a seaman. Another aspect of the Jones Act qualification requirements states that the vessel aboard which you were injured as a seaman must be “in navigation.” This is another legal term that has been specifically defined through prior cases and a qualification which must be met in order to be able to file a Jones Act claim. There are four parts of the “in navigation” definition:
- The vessel must be afloat. This means the boat must be in the water, even if it is docked, and floating. It does not count if you work aboard a boat that is on land being built or repaired.
- The vessel must be in operation. In other words the ship must a working vessel. It could be docked, but it must be working and operable, or in other words carrying out the business of the maritime industry, at the time of an injury.
- The vessel must be capable of moving. The ship has to be afloat on the water, operable by its crew, and capable of leaving the dock and moving in the water.
- The vessel must be on navigable waters. Oceans, rivers, and lakes that are linked to other navigable waters or that connect two or more states count as navigable waters.
Examples of Vessels Not Meeting the Jones Act Qualifications
The definition of a vessel in navigation is specific, and yet it can still be confusing. To clarify the definition it helps to understand what ships are not qualified under the Jones Act for the definition of a seaman. For example, any ship that is in dry dock, on land, or under construction, is not afloat, operating, or capable of moving and do not meet Jones Act qualifications.
Another important example of a vessel that does not qualify is an oil drilling platform. Although it is in the water, it is not afloat because it is anchored to the ocean floor. It is not a vessel in navigation because it is not designed to move. It is a permanent structure. There are laws that specifically deal with these offshore platforms as they do not qualify under the Jones Act.
A vessel that is navigable and afloat will not qualify if it is a new vessel being tested for seaworthiness. A ship that is being navigated to make sure it is ready to be sent to whoever has purchased it is not a vessel in operation. It is not participating in commerce and it therefore does not qualify under the Jones Act if you are injured while working on it under these conditions.
A Seaman’s Contribution to the Work of the Vessel
There is one final aspect of qualifying under the Jones Act, in addition to the “in navigation” and “significant amount of time” qualifications. This third factor is the requirement that your work contributes to the working of the vessel. The statement is intentionally broad because a seaman does not have to be a sailor or someone who specifically operates or navigates the vessel. Any kind of work aboard the vessel that contributes to its function qualifies.
This means that a seaman may be a cook, a deckhand, an electrician, a phone operator, or even a musician aboard a cruise ship. Almost anyone working aboard a vessel qualifies as contributing to the work of the ship. The Jones Act itself does not include these contributing workers, but later Supreme Court decisions expanded the definition of a seaman so that more than just those working on the navigation and direct operation of a vessel qualify for the Jones Act. Without this added definition, many workers aboard vessels would be disqualified.
If you are uncertain whether you qualify under the Jones Act after experiencing an injury, contact an experienced lawyer to help you decide and then file a claim if necessary. This professional can also be your representative if your case goes to arbitration or to court. If you have a loved one who qualified as a seaman and died on the job, you can also rely on a maritime lawyer to help you get compensation. The Jones Act is available to help anyone who qualifies recover damages after maritime injuries.