Do I Qualify for a Jones Act Claim?
February 10, 2022 @ 5:47 pm
Have you or someone you care about been injured while working a maritime job? Getting the medical and financial help you need following a maritime accident can be hard—especially when standard maintenance and care isn’t enough, and an employer isn’t willing to step up.
If you’ve been wondering if someone can help you, you may be able to get the relief and assistance you need by filing a claim through the Jones Act. Here’s what you need to know about the Jones Act, Jones Act qualifications and how to make a Jones Act claim.
What is the Jones Act?
The Jones Act is part of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, which is a federal law created primarily to ensure commercial ships and fleets would continue to operate and serve in times of war or emergency. The Jones Act—Section 33—establishes the right of a seaman or a seaman’s family to seek personal injury damages in a trial by jury in a court of law as long as the circumstances of the seaman’s injury or death meet certain conditions. These conditions are often referred to as qualifications for a lawsuit under the Jones Act.
Jones Act Qualifications
1. You must be a seaman.
Generally, to merit seaman status, you must be employed by a ship or shipping company in a role that contributes to the functions or tasks of a ship or fleet of ships. Simply put, a seaman is usually the member of a ship’s crew or even a captain. Maritime law further dictates, in general, that you must spend at least 30 percent of your working time with that ship or fleet.
2. The vessel must have been in navigation when the incident occurred.
Maritime law recognizes a ship as being in navigation if it is afloat, in operation, capable of moving and on navigable waters. However, this distinction is not always obvious.
• While a ship tied at dock to unload, for example, may meet the “in navigation” requirement, an oil drilling platform may not as it is anchored permanently to the ocean floor.
• While a ship dry docked for extensive renovation would no longer qualify as in navigation, a ship dry docked for minor repairs or routine maintenance may retain its in navigation status.
3. The vessel must have been in navigable waters when the incident occurred.
Navigable waters is a term used to describe bodies of water that can support interstate or foreign commerce. Navigable waters include oceans as well as rivers and lakes. Artificial water bodies like canals, portions of a harbor area, backwashes, slips or turning areas may also qualify as navigable waters. In addition, improvements to waters previously considered unnavigable—even if privately funded and unintended to change a waterway’s status—may make waters navigable.
4. Generally, the injury must be the result of negligence.
Under the Jones Act, employers have a responsibility to provide seamen a safe working environment. This includes everything from keeping vessels and equipment in safe working condition to standardizing policies and procedures and enforcing safety protocols to making appropriate staffing decisions.
When that doesn’t happen, accidents that result may be the result of negligence—neglecting to do something that should have been done, for example, or doing something that shouldn’t have been done. The party that caused the negligence can vary.
• It could be another crew member who left grease on a deck or threatened a co-worker with violence.
• It could be the failure of the vessel owner to use proper non-stick walking surfaces.
• It could be a captain or senior staff member who made an error in judgment or gave careless or unsafe instructions.
• It could be a vessel owner who failed to maintain the ship and its systems.
• It could be a fleet owner who failed to provide proper equipment or establish safe protocols for the job to be done.It could even be the vessel’s manufacturer that used defective materials or included a design flaw.
In each of these cases, the Jones Act holds the employer responsible for any physical harm done to an employee if negligence played a part.
If you meet these criteria—if you are a seaman who was injured on a vessel in navigation on navigable waters due to someone else’s negligence—you may meet the qualifications to make a Jones Act claim. Likewise, if the seaman was a family member who died from their injuries, you also may be able to make a Jones Act claim.
Even if you don’t qualify as a seaman under the Jones Act, you may have a compensable claim under general maritime law, under the law of the state adjacent to where your injury occurred, or otherwise, if you are injured on the water.
Damages Under the Jones Act
The Jones Act entitles seamen who are injured due to someone else’s negligence full compensation. This includes payment to address lost wages and earnings, lost earning capacity, past and future medical expenses, pain, suffering, and mental anguish. This is in addition to maritime law’s standard maintenance and cure, and that’s important to understand.
- Maintenance refers to everyday living expenses while cure refers to medical expenses. Employers must provide medical care, maintenance and cure OR face punitive damages for failing to do so.
- However, both maintenance and cure end once a proper determination has been made that a patient’s injury has reached maximum medical improvement—the resulting condition is as good as it is going to get. That means that you could be severely disabled yet still be declared at maximum medical improvement.
Strictly maintenance and cure cases are typically heard and decided by a judge, but if a maintenance and cure case is coupled with a Jones Act case, both may be heard and decided by a jury.
Guarantees under the Jones Act can be the key factor in ensuring that a seaman is able to cover full expenses for not only past expenditures but also future medical care and rehabilitation as well as provide for their family.
How to Make a Jones Act Claim
You can file a Jones Act claim in either state or federal district court, depending upon a number of factors. Generally, the claim must be filed within three years of the date of your injury. However, having a solid case may depend on being able to clearly document the incident, the conditions associated with it and your resulting injuries.
1. You must report the accident and injury to your employer immediately. Federal law generally allows up to seven days to report an injury under the Jones Act, but reporting an incident sooner rather than later boosts credibility.
2. Ensure that the captain enters the incident into the ship’s official log—the permanent record detailing a ship’s operation, management and events.
3. The captain or senior official must file a Report of Marine Accident, Injury, or Death—Form CG-2692—within seven days of the incident. A copy should be forwarded to your employer’s human resources department. The Report of Marine Accident, Injury, or Death is required by federal law and should include a detailed account. This information may be vital to proving your claim.
4. Seek immediate medical attention, and keep copies of all medical records, diagnostic tests and payment receipts associated with your injuries. This includes documentation for attention you receive on board. Employers who refuse medical treatment can be held responsible for punitive damages.
5. Consult with an attorney who specializes in maritime personal injury law and Jones Act claims. You’ll want to bring all documents that are associated with the incident, any medical care you received, any expenses you had to pay out of pocket and any correspondence you might have received concerning the incident. In short, if it has anything to do with your injury, the circumstances surrounding it or the ongoing situation, you’ll want to include it.
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Contact MMRBH Today
The Jones Act provides you certain rights if you’re injured at sea. It also guarantees rights for families that lose someone from an injury, so choosing the right personal injury lawyer is important. It’s the difference between having someone who understands maritime law and someone who misses something crucial because they just didn’t know.
At Morrow, Morrow, Ryan, Bassett & Haik, we know. We are personal injury attorneys who specialize in maritime law, maritime and offshore injuries, and Jones Act claims. If you think you or someone you care about meets the Jones Act qualifications and needs help, reach out online to schedule your free consultation or call us at 800-655-4783. The Jones Act was created specifically to help people just like you.