The Jones Act provides a way for injured seamen to seek compensation but they must meet specific qualifications. To qualify for a Jones Act claim, a seaman must spend significant time on a vessel in navigable waters. A Jones Act lawyer can help you understand if you fit into this ambiguous definition.
About the Jones Act
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In some situations, the employer or employer’s insurance company may deny full coverage. They often try to provide the injured worker with less than that to which they are entitled, even if the employer was negligent in the accident that caused the injury.
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 offers. In these situations, a seaman can file a claim under the Jones Act and seek damages for the injury.
These include payments to cover medical bills, lost wages, and other expenses. To know whether you can file a claim, you need to understand whether or not you qualify. You need to know specific Jones Act qualifications before you decide to file a claim.
Only Seamen Qualify for Jones Act Claims
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 other laws ensure seamen get compensation no matter how the injury occurred, the Jones Act is specifically for cases where 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 definition of a seaman according to the Jones Act is open to some interpretation. It includes three important components that have been defined over the years through precedent:
- Significant amount of working time
- Seafaring vessel in navigation
- Contributing to the functioning of the vessel
A Jones Act lawyer has the expertise to interpret these terms and help you determine if you meet the definition.
The Jones Act “Significant Amount of Time” Qualification
According to the Jones Act, part of the definition of a seaman is that they spend a “significant amount of time” working aboard a seagoing vessel.
This statement is not specific. 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 primarily 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 amount to at least 30 percent.
If your employer has more than one vessel and you split your minimum of 30 percent between two or three, 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 instead of 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 defined explicitly through prior cases and a qualification that must be met 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 on land being built or repaired.
- The vessel must be in operation. 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. In other words, the ship must be a working vessel.
- 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 linked to other navigable waters or connecting 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 examples of ships that do not qualify under the Jones Act for the definition of a seaman:
- Any ship in dry dock, on land, or under construction is not afloat, operating, or capable of moving and does not meet Jones Act qualifications.
- Oil drilling platforms also do not meet the qualification. Although in the water, they are not afloat because they are anchored to the ocean floor. A platform is not a vessel in navigation because it is not designed to move. It is a permanent structure. Some laws 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 being navigated to ensure 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 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 besides 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 work aboard the vessel that contributes to its function qualifies.
Almost anyone working aboard a vessel qualifies as contributing to the working of the ship. This means that a seaman may be a:
- Phone operator
- Musician aboard a cruise ship
The Jones Act does not include these contributing workers. Later Supreme Court decisions expanded the definition of a seaman.
This allowed more than just those working on the navigation and direct operation of a vessel to qualify for the Jones Act. Without this added definition, many workers aboard vessels would be disqualified.
The Jones Act is available to help anyone who qualifies to recover damages after maritime injuries. 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 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.