The Merchant Marine Act (commonly known as the Jones Act) was enacted in 1920 (46 U.S.C.A. § 688) to provide a remedy to sailors (the right to sue their employers) for injuries or death resulting from the negligence of an owner, a master or a fellow sailor of a vessel. No matter how or why a sailor (seaman) was injured, certain medical and living expenses must be paid. The Act also requires that all goods shipped between waterborne ports of the United States be carried by vessels built in the United States and owned and operated by Americans. The Act was introduced by Senator Wesley Jones.
To be considered a “seaman” pursuant to the Jones Act- Merchant Marine Act a person must be assigned to a vessel or fleet that operates in navigable waters (meaning waterways capable of being used for interstate or foreign commerce). A seaman must perform work that is related to the vessel’s purpose as long as it furthers the mission of the vessel. The individual’s actual job description is not important. A seaman can be working as an officer, a dockside worker, a painter, a boat-pilot, a fisherman, a technician, a mechanic, an engineer, a blaster and even a laborer. A seaman is an individual that works on barges, container ships, tugboats, crew boats, dredges, cargo ships, offshore oil rigs, fishing vessels and other floating or moveable vessels. Further, the “seaman” status pursuant to the Jones Act-Merchant Marine Act requires that the employee spend a significant amount of time upon the vessel.
In a standard workers compensation claim, the laws are designed for “land based” employees. Workers compensation laws allow the employee to recover a limited amount of damages without having to prove the issue of who was at fault for their injury. Under the Jones Act-Merchant Marine Act, a seaman is able to bring a negligence suit against their employer. Negligence occurs when an employer or co-worker takes unreasonable risks and a seaman is injured as a result. The “wrongfulness” of the conduct of employer and/or co-worker is highly relevant as it will help to determine how much money the seaman will receive. These lawsuits are designed not only to compensate the seaman, but hopefully it will prevent employers and/or coworkers from ignoring the safety of other seamen in the future.
Once the issue of negligence has been established, the seaman can asked to be awarded for several types of damages: past and future medical expenses, lost wages, loss of earning capacity, pain and suffering and to punish the employer in cases involving atrocious conduct.
If you have been injured on a vessel and would like to know more about YOUR rights regarding the Jones Act-Merchant Marine Act, please contact RON KIM LAW and speak to Ron Kim about what YOUR rights are.