If you are a maritime or offshore worker, the Jones Act is vital to you as an employee. The Jones Act is a type of workers' compensation insurance specifically for maritime workers, but not everyone who works offshore will qualify. Only those who meet the criteria for "Jones Act Seaman" will be able to gain access to this type of insurance coverage upon an accident at the workplace. The offshore industry is a dangerous field, which is why this specialized type of insurance is so vital.
The Jones Act is a part of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920. It was written to give maritime employees rights and benefits so that their health and wellbeing is protected in the event of an accident, as well as their family's wellbeing, in the event that the worker died performing their job duties. How does the act do so? It allows employees to make claims against their employers for negligence that resulted in their injury. This is where the Jones Act differs from the average workers' compensation insurance. With regular workers' comp, the employee is filing a claim with the insurance company, rather than a lawsuit against their employer. In fact, collecting workers' comp disqualifies employees from filing lawsuits against their employers for negligent actions.
According to § 688 of United States Code 46, "Any sailor who shall suffer personal injury in the course of his employment may, at his election, maintain an action for damages at law, with the right to trial by jury, and in such action all statutes of the United States modifying or extending the common-law right or remedy in cases of personal injury…" Not only can seamen bring claims of negligence, they can also claim that the vessel they were employed on was "unseaworthy." This would also be considered the fault of the employer for failing to provide safe working conditions.
The Jones Act only applies to seamen who are employed on United States flagged ships that are commissioned for the purpose of cabotage, that is, coastal shipping. If the individual is employed to do a vital duty that pertains to the operation of the ship, then they are likely considered seamen. The Jones Act itself is somewhat vague on who exactly qualifies as a Jones Act seaman, it simply states that the worker must be assigned to a vessel that meets Jones Act requirements and that worker must contribute to the ship's function. This contribution must be "substantial" which may also be up for interpretation. Due to the ambiguity of this statute, it is wise to procure the help of a maritime attorney.
If you work in the offshore industry and are unsure whether or not you qualify as a Jones Act seaman, and therefore the rights and benefits of a seaman, please do not hesitate to contact a Houston maritime lawyer at Stern Law Group today!