Is your workplace injury covered by the Jones Act?

As many Louisianans know, maritime work is rife with hazards. If you work on or near ships it is important to know your rights in case of a workplace accident or injury. The Jones Act is a federal law that protects the rights of workers at sea. When a seaman is injured because of negligence by his employer he may be entitled to recover damages including medical bills, pain and suffering, and lost wages.

The first element of a Jones Act claim involves where the injury took place. In order to be covered under this law a plaintiff must have been injured on a navigable vessel. In 2005 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that a navigable vessel can include “every description of watercraft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water.”

Structures like fixed oil rigs, which are not meant for transportation on water, are not covered by this definition. However, there are other laws to protect workers injured in such environments, including the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act and the Death on the High Seas Act. Some accidents may be covered by more than one of these laws.

Secondly, a plaintiff under the Jones Act must be a “seaman” at the time of the injury. Generally, courts tend to define a seaman as a worker who contributes to the vessel’s mission. Given the vast number of functions and roles in maritime work, courts must regularly revisit what constitutes a seaman on a case-by-case basis.

Longshoremen and dock workers are usually denied Jones Act status but can seek damages under other laws. In addition, employees who do most of their work on land but are injured on an infrequent trip aboard a vessel usually are not included.

Source: FindLaw.com, “Jones Act Overview

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