Offshore InjuryBlog

Jones Act Laws May Not Apply to Floating Homes

Offshore injuries are often very serious. Whether on the job or at a friend’s home, getting injured while on the water can quickly complicate things. In the case of floating homes, it is important to determine what is and isn’t a “vessel” so that the appropriate action can be taken if an injury occurs. Recent changes to the law have narrowed what constitutes a vessel.

Why does this matter? Under the Jones Act and maritime law, a person is entitled to special rights when injured while on a vessel of any type. This could be anything from a tugboat to a barge—but as determined in a recent Supreme Court case, not a floating home. If a case does fall under these laws, an individual needs to retain an experienced Jones Act lawyer.

Why Don’t Laws Apply to Floating Homes or Other Structures?

While injuries or incidents that take place on such structures still have laws and rules in place, the Jones Act and other maritime laws won’t apply to them because they are not technically designed for transportation on water (a vessel).

The Supreme Court’s ruling on a case involving this very issue shed light on their stance on what jurisdiction floating homes, casinos, restaurants, and hotels fall under. When a structure is considered a vessel, it is subject to different federal laws, such as the Jones Act, as well as employment and tax laws. That makes it important for floating homes and other structures located on the water to have their property clearly defined in order to properly protect their owners.

Supreme Court Makes Major Decision

On January 15 of 2013, the Supreme Court made their decision on the matter. They ruled that a floating home is not a vessel and thus should not be regulated under federal admiralty law. This ruling came from a case involving a Florida man who had gotten into a dispute over marina docking fees with the City of Riviera Beach. The man argued that the court had no jurisdiction on the case because his floating home was not a vessel, which is defined as any “watercraft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water.”

While this stance was eventually backed up by the Supreme Court, the initial rule by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals said the house boat was indeed a vessel because the Supreme Court previously described a vessel as “anything that floats.” The Supreme Court overturned this eventually, saying that the interpretation was much too broad and left room for things such as a wooden bathtub or large fishing net being unfairly defined as a vessel.

How Is a Vessel Defined Now?

Rather than taking the stance of “anything that floats,” Justice Breyer, who helped make the decision in the Supreme Court, said that something should only be viewed as a vessel if, “a reasonable observer” would conclude the structure was actually designed practically for transportation on water. Not everyone was happy with the decision. Some believe the decision will cause serious damage, as it cuts out many structures that were considered vessels and thus regulated under maritime law.

Floating Casinos No Longer Protected

According to the American Gaming Association, there are 61 floating casinos spread out across six different states. The change in laws meant that these casinos no longer have to resolve lawsuits or other matters with employees and customers under maritime law, such as the Jones Act. While once they may have reached out to a Jones Act attorney, now a general personal injury advocate would be more appropriate, as Casinos are regulated under state laws.

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