Jones Act Eligibility: Could You Receive Compensation for Your Accident at Sea?

If you work at sea, you face significant danger every day. Whether you work in the fishing industry, on a container ship, or an oil rig, you’re at the mercy of the weather and water. In fact, working on a fishing boat is the second most dangerous job in the US, with a fatality rate of 75.2 per 100,000 workers. 

As dangerous as maritime jobs may be, you also have extra legal protections. Specifically, you’re subject to the Jones-Shafroth Act. Most often referred to as the Jones Act, this law gives you the right to hold your employer accountable for your injuries if you’re hurt while at sea. 

If you’ve been injured in your role as a maritime worker, the Jones Act could help you seek compensation for your losses. Here’s what you need to know about the Act, how it’s different from normal workers’ compensation claims, and when you may file a claim. 

What Is the Jones Act?

The Jones Act is part of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920. The purpose of the law is to standardize maritime trade by US vessels and ports. 

One of the most important features of the law is how it regulates safety, health, and accident benefits for sailors and others who work on the water. Under the law, eligible workers can seek compensation from their employers for the harm they suffer due to the negligence of the company or a coworker, even if they were performing a task they knew was dangerous at the time. 

It’s important to note that this law doesn’t apply to anyone who gets on a boat while they’re on the clock. The Supreme Court set the definition for a Jones Act seaman in the 1995 case Chandris, Inc., v. Latsis. According to the Court, a person is only eligible to file a claim under the Act if they meet the following criteria:

  • They spend a substantial amount of time contributing to the operation of a vessel, with a minimum of 30% of their working hours. 
  • They are either named as the member of the vessel’s crew or assigned to a fleet of ships by their employer.

Additionally, a vessel must be operational, afloat on navigable waters, and capable of moving. Under these requirements, you are likely protected by the Act if you primarily work on one of the following:

  • Fishing boats
  • Cruise ships
  • Sailing boats
  • Container ships
  • Diving and tour boats
  • Oil rigs

However, not everyone who works around boats is covered. You are unlikely to be protected by the Act if you work as:

  • An administrative worker on shore. You would be protected by workers’ compensation instead. 
  • A dock shipping worker. You are more likely to be protected by the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA).
  • A Navy sailor. You would need to file a claim under Navy Casualty instead. 

Furthermore, you cannot claim Jones Act protection if you’re a visitor or customer on a boat. In those cases, you can file a standard personal injury claim instead. 

Jones Act vs. Workers’ Compensation vs. Personal Injury

Lawsuits under the Jones-Shafroth Act have some significant similarities to workers’ compensation claims, but they are not the same. Workers’ compensation is available to people who are injured in the course of their duties while on land. Furthermore, workers’ comp is not based on fault. If you were injured on the job and work on land, you can file a comp claim. 

Jones-Shafroth Act lawsuits work more like personal injury claims than workers’ comp cases. These claims are based on a violation of the maritime employer’s duty to keep its vessels safe for all seamen who work aboard them. If your employer or fellow worker neglects to use reasonable care to keep the vessel as safe as possible and you get hurt, you can file a claim for your injuries. However, if you’re injured in the course of dangerous duties and no one was negligent, you aren’t eligible to file. 

Despite this restriction, receiving compensation under the Act is substantially easier than through an average personal injury claim. One reason for this is that you do not need to prove that the negligence was a primary or even substantial factor in your injuries. Instead, you need to show that the negligence contributed to the harm you suffered in some small way. 

Another reason for the difference is that you do not need to prove your employer had a duty toward you in a Jones Act claim like you would for a standard personal injury lawsuit. The law clearly states that your employer must keep your workplace safe, and other parts of the maritime code dictate strict safety standards for seagoing vessels. You need to prove that they neglected to follow these standards somehow, which is typically simpler than proving negligence otherwise. 

How to File a Claim for a Workplace Injury at Sea

If you meet the criteria to qualify as a protected maritime worker, you can file a Jones Act lawsuit to pursue damages for your injuries. The most effective way to seek compensation is to work with skilled maritime injury attorneys like those at Fiore Achermann. We can help you:

  • Report the injury to your employer
  • Provide an accurate and comprehensive statement of your injuries and the accident
  • File a lawsuit for compensation in state or federal court

Don’t wait to get help. There is a strict three-year statute of limitations on Jones Act lawsuits. Schedule your consultation with the California maritime injury law firm Fiore Achermann today to discuss your case and learn your options for compensation.