Understanding the Seaman Status Determination
Being classified as a seaman provides legal benefits to maritime workers under the Jones Act (more formally known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920). For example, maritime employees who have the status of seaman have access to benefits that would otherwise be denied, including the protection of wages and working conditions, as well as legal remedies made available should they suffer a workplace injury. Seamen are also protected by the doctrines of "unseaworthiness" and "maintenance and cure" under the Jones Act.
How do I know whether or not I am a seaman?
While the term seaman has been used for centuries, there are specific requirements for an individual to be classified as such under the Jones Act. Courts use a three-pronged test to determine seaman status:
- The individual must be working on a vessel or fleet of vessels on navigable water.
- They must have duties that directly contribute to the function or mission of the vessel.
- They must have a connection to the vessel that is substantial in time and nature.
While this test may seem relatively simple, its determination can become complex in certain circumstances. The first prong of this test requires that the individual be employed on a vessel that is not inactive or permanently moored—the vessel must actually be operating on a navigable waterway. Courts determine whether or not a location qualifies as a navigable waterway based on the location of the body of water, as well as the waterways that connect to it. For example, while most lakes would not qualify as navigable water, a lake may meet the requirements of this prong if fed by a major river.
The second prong of the seaman status test requires that the individual be performing duties that directly contribute to either the function of the vessel or the fulfillment of its mission. This could mean serving as a deckhand or as a housekeeping steward, as individuals like these are vital to the functioning of the vessel.
Finally, the third prong of the test requires that an individual's connection be significant. Individuals who go out on vessels for short periods of time (such as welders) do not qualify as seaman because their primary duties are not onboard that vessel. While an individual does not need to work 100% of their time offshore, they do need to spend a substantial amount of time on a vessel to qualify as a seaman under the Jones Act.
Getting the Involvement of a Jones Act Attorney
If you have been injured or made ill while working offshore, you should speak to an experienced maritime lawyer as soon as possible. By meeting the requirements of the seaman status test, you will be given access to benefits and legal remedies following an offshore accident. At Arnold & Itkin, we can help determine whether or not you qualify as a Jones Act seaman and help you to fight for maximum recovery. We have extensive experience with maritime law. Call today.