The Jones Act Essentials: Answers to the Most Common Questions

The Jones Act is a law governing most maritime matters. It was created in 1920 to explicitly define the rights of injured seamen and their families because they were not covered by workers’ compensation laws. The most common explanation of when the Jones Act is applicable would be when a seaman is injured or dies during his employment on board a vessel that is on navigable water ways.

Though this seems like a very simple explanation, there are still many questions attributed to which type of specific workers are protected and why. Here, we hope to answer some of the more common questions on the Jones Act.

Who is a Seaman? Am I Protected Under the Jones Act?

The Jones Act is applicable to seamen, as the law defines them. This means you must work on a vessel and be actively contributing to the vessel’s function. This can include the following employment positions:

  • Captains and relief captains
  • First mates, second mates and third mates
  • Deck hands
  • Able bodied seaman and unlicensed deck hands
  • Engineers
  • Chief Engineer, second
  • Tankermen
  • Oilers
  • QMeds
  • Bosuns
  • Pilots
  • Electricians
  • Cooks
  • Workers on cruise ships such as dancers, hairdressers, performers, waiters/waitresses, chefs, stewards to housekeepers

Bear in mind there is a connection test each worker must satisfy in order to be protected under the Jones Act. This test determines whether your connection to the vessel(s) is substantial. In order to be eligible, you must be related to the ship’s mission or function a minimum of 30 percent of the time.

What is a “Vessel” Under the Jones Act?

Although this seems like a silly question (obviously, a vessel is a ship), United States courts still seem to struggle with the term, given that technology produces so many new devices and watercrafts.  You can work on the  following vessels and be  covered under the Jones Act:

  • Tankers
  • Container Ships
  • Tug boats
  • Dredges
  • Drill ships
  • Crew boats
  • Supply boats
  • Barges
  • Jack-up barges
  • Commercial fishing boats
  • Sail boats
  • Recreational Boats
  • Ferries
  • Cruise Ships

Other vessels, such as casino riverboats or Tension Leg Platforms have been found not to be “vessels” under the Jones Act.

What are “Navigable Waterways”?

Navigable waters, as defined by the Jones Act, applies to waters (such as rivers) capable of interstate and foreign commerce. The ocean and all water connected to these waterways are navigable waters. In some instances, the Jones Act may not apply if a lake or waterway is landlocked.

What is Maintenance and Cure? Do I Automatically Receive It?

Photo of boat docksThis is the easy question—yes.

If you are injured during the course of your employment, you are entitled to maintenance.  When you work on a vessel your room and board is provided so the purpose of maintenance is to provide the injured seaman their room and board on land.   It is a daily payment that is based on your reasonable living expenses.  The amount of payment depends on your monthly expenses unless a contractual amount has been agreed upon.

If you are injured at sea, you are entitled to cure. Cure is necessary, yet reasonable medical care paid for by your employer that will help you reach a state of maximum medical improvement. Essentially, your employer must pay for your medical expenses until there is nothing further the Doctor can do to improve your condition, i.e. to get you better. If your employer is not paying for your medical care,  you should contact an attorney familiar with maintenance and cure.

An injured seaman is entitled to both maintenance and cure, regardless of fault. Even if you are completely at fault for your injuries and your employer is not liable, you are still entitled to them.

Always Consult an Attorney If You are Injured at Sea

Be aware that according to the Jones Act, an injured maritime worker or the Family of a deceased maritime worker is not entitled to compensation unless you can prove your injury was caused by negligence or unseaworthiness. You should always consult with a maritime trial lawyer who is familiar with the Jones Act and general maritime law to assess your case and evaluate what your rights are moving forward.

Latti & Anderson LLP is a law firm that helps victims of maritime injuries nationwide.