The Jones Act

Jones Act

Formally known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, but most commonly referred to as the Jones Act, the Jones Act of 1920 enacted a number of federal statutes specifically seeking to maintain, cultivate, develop, and grow the burgeoning shipping industry in America. As part of this effort, protections were put in place statutorily defining the rights and protections of American maritime workers for the first time, and continuing to this day.

Minimum Eligibility Requirements for Claims under the Jones Act

Under the Jones Act, any seamen or crewmember of a vessel is entitled to file a personal injury claim under US admiralty law for injuries or other damages sustained during the course of offshore employment. First, offshore employment is defined as any individual having spent a minimum of thirty percent of their work schedule on navigable waterways aboard a US-flagged vessel, while also exhibiting a clearly discernable contribution to the functionality of the vessel. An injured seaman, who qualifies as such, can recover compensation if his or her injuries occurred in the course of employment on a vessel. Moreover, Maintenance and cure provision benefits, customary in admiralty law to sailors left on shore leave due to injury or illness, are applicable in Jones Act claims for compensation.

Differentiating between Jones Act Eligibility and Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act Eligibility

The Jones Act, including the provisions for filing maritime employment related injury claims, is reserved exclusively for offshore employees aboard a vessel. For those not meeting the minimum requirements in terms of time spent offshore, filings claims under the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act may be the more appropriate legal route, as this Act covers those workers having a predominantly onshore presence, but working closely with the maritime industry.

Statutes of Limitations Applicable to Jones Act Cases

In light of statutes of limitation, individuals considering filing claims under the Jones Act must do so within three (3) years of the original date of injury or harms sustained during the course of maritime employment. Filings attempted after this date may likely be barred, save for cases that involved latent discovery of injury or damages by the employee which commence the three (3) limitations period at the date of reasonable discovery of damages or harms. Finally, any Jones Act claims arising from injuries sustained as part of employment onboard a federal government vessel, which requires a separate claims process involving lengthy waiting periods and submission of original claims in writing. 

Negligence Claims Commonly Made under the Jones Act

Per the evidentiary and burden of proof standards codified in the Jones Act, a modified burden of proof is applied via the slight negligence standard in light of evolving federal circuit court Jones Act case law. This burden, according to many legal commentators, is relatively lower comparable to ordinary tort claims for plaintiffs to establish the existence of negligence, which can take the form of:

  • Reckless or egregiously non-professional conduct by other seamen or vessel employees causing physical injuries to the Jones Act claimant
  • Failure to provide a seaworthy vessel to seamen and crewmembers, causing complications and leading to damages sustained by the claimant
  • Failure to provide reasonably safe working conditions aboard the vessel
  • Deviations from the ordinary course of conduct aboard a vessel that ultimately caused the death or injury of another seamen or crewmember

In short, even a relatively thin and comparably irrelevant claim for negligence can be made under the burden of the proof standards in the Jones Act. By using legal counsel, these incidents of negligence on behalf of vessel owners and employers, as well as any damages incurred by the employee complicating his or her ability to remain employed, are grounds for filing claims under the Jones Act.