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 a 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.
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.
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.
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.
Jones Act law is complex, and the statute of limitations for Jones Act lawsuits is three years from the cause of the action. If you’re unsure whether you qualify for a Jones Act claim, it’s time to contact the Jones Act lawyers at Morrow, Morrow, Ryan, Bassett & Haik.
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.
Learn more about the Jones Act here, or reach out to the Jones Act lawyers at Morrow, Morrow, Ryan, Bassett & Haik to speak to a legal representative that is well-versed in offshore injury law.