Does the Jones Act Apply to Injuries on Moored Vessels?
The Jones Act, also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, was created to hold negligent employers accountable and protect the lives of offshore workers. Under the Jones Act, seamen receive protections for their health and livelihood. The law allows them to file a lawsuit when a crew member’s or shipowner’s negligence causes injury or death.
The Jones Act applies if:
- A person was injured while working as a vessel crew member
- An employer’s negligence caused the injury or death
- The employer’s negligence is provable
The SCOTUS Definition of a Jones Act Vessel
One of the key stipulations of the Jones Act has been how it defines the word vessel. Before 2005, the Jones Act defined what a vessel is with a narrow definition. For nearly nine decades, a Jones Act vessel was typically regarded as something akin to a traditional ship. However, developments in the offshore industry challenged what a vessel is.
Eventually, offshore rigs, barges, and other types of vessels entered the lexicon as Jones Act vessels. This happened because of a 2005 Supreme Court decision, which found that a dredge should be considered a Jones Act vessel. In this decision, SCOTUS defined that vessel is “every description of a watercraft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water.”
Moored Vessels & the Jones Act
The 2005 SCOTUS definition of a vessel affects which moored vessels fall under the Jones Act. Since transportation over water is a key qualifier for a Jones Act vessel, a ship qualifies under the law if it is not permanently moored. So, mobile oil rigs that are temporarily moored are considered Jones Act vessels because of their moveable status. However, vessels that are moored permanently at a dock, bank, shore, or land structure do not fall under the Jones Act. An example of a vessel permanently moored that does not qualify for the Jones Act is the Queen Mary, a retired British ocean liner that is now permanently moored as a hotel in Long Beach, California.
So, one of the most important aspects of determining if a vessel is regulated by the Jones Act is its ability to move. If moored impermanently, a vessel’s crew will likely be protected by the Jones Act. Vessels permanently affixed to a location might not provide the same protections to its crew as enjoyed by those on moving ships.
If you have a question about the Jones Act or think you might have a case, call our team right now for help. Consultation with our Jones Act lawyers is free of charge when you dial (888) 346-5024.