Unlike most land-based workers in the United States, maritime workers are not eligible for workers’ compensation benefits under state or federal laws if they are injured on the job.
The Merchant Marine Act of 1920 – commonly known as the Jones Act – is a federal law protecting injured mariners by giving them the right to sue their employer for negligence.
Workers covered under the Jones Act
In general, maritime workers, or seamen, are workers who perform a significant amount of work on any “vessel in navigation,” which is a legal term, meaning the ship or boat must be:
- In operation
- Capable of moving
- On navigable waters
Maritime workers can be captains, crewmembers, deckhands, mates, pilots and laborers, including dock workers. In general, workers must perform at least 30% of their duties on a ship or fleet of vessels.
Defining negligence under the law
The Jones Act is an employee-friendly statute requiring employers to provide a reasonably safe workplace and keep their vessels in a reasonably safe condition. Employers can be held accountable for:
- Broken equipment
- Improperly maintained equipment
- Failure to provide workers with appropriate equipment to do their job
- Oil or grease left on a deck
- Improper training
- Unsafe work conditions
- Negligence of co-workers
- Assault by a co-worker
A key facet of the Jones Act is that the burden of proof is lower than in other personal injury cases. Plaintiffs need only prove that the employer’s negligence played a large or small role in their injury.
Damages under the Jones Act
Most maritime workers face hazardous conditions daily. Many avoid filing complaints against an employer, fearing they could lose their jobs. That’s why it’s advisable to consult with an experienced Jones Act attorney who can protect their rights and seek compensation.
Injured maritime workers are entitled to receive damages, such as those seen in other personal injury cases. These include medical expenses, lost wages and earning capacity, as well as noneconomic damages for pain and suffering.