Working on the Sea: Laws that Protect You
The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, often referred to as the Jones Act, is a Congressional law that offers specific protections to Merchant Marines if they are injured while aboard an operating vessel. Injured vessel crew members are entitled to receive benefits similar to workers compensation if they become injured while out to sea.
Any employee considered a sailor as a profession is covered under Admiralty Law and the Jones Act. The Supreme Court defines a sailor, merchant marine, or vessel crewman as someone that spends more than 30 percent of their work time on board an operating vessel at sea.
The Jones Act does not protect dockworkers or longshoremen. These workers are covered under a separate Congressional Act known as the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act.
What the Jones Act Covers
Vessel crewmen that are injured at work or contract a work-related illness while at sea are entitled to receive the following types of compensation under the Jones Act:
• Transportation back to land
• Lost wages from the time the injury or sickness occurred
• Medical care for the injury or illness
• Any contractual benefits that are due
• Compensation for injuries or disabilities
In addition, the injured employee may also sue for pain and suffering, future wages, and may even opt for a third-part suit if it is determined that the negligent action that caused the injury or illness was also the responsibility of another party.
What Is the Difference Between Workers Compensation and Jones Act Protections?
Workers compensation is an insurance product purchased by business owners as a way to protect the employees and their business. Workers compensation, in most states, eliminates the company from responsibility if an employee is injured. The injured employee receives all benefits and compensation from the insurance company and not their employer. This also applies to municipality and federal workers who are covered by their own forms of workers compensation.
The Jones Act is not a form of insurance. It is a law gives seamen the right to sue their employer for negligence if they are injured on the job. The injured party must meet all qualifications, such as the amount of time they spend at sea and the owner meets the requirements to be considered a ship owner under the definitions of the Jones Act. The injured employee will also have the burden to prove that the injury or illness was directly connected to a negligent act of the vessel owner.
In some cases, the injured employee may be able to claim workers compensation for their injuries. However, by claiming workers compensation, they surrender their right to make a claim under the Jones Act. Additionally, compensation paid by workers compensation insurers is generally smaller than the awards given in a Jones Act settlement.
The best thing that a seaman can do if they are injured is consult a personal injury attorney that is familiar with Admiralty Law. They will be able to review your case and determine what your best course of action would be to seek compensation for your injuries.