Does the Jones Act Only Help Workers Out at Sea?
The Jones Act was made to protect offshore workers. It was passed in 1920 and is officially known as the Merchant Marine Act. This important law protects workers from preventable accidents by giving them the ability to hold responsible parties liable should one occur. Before the Jones Act, workers could only seek compensation for their immediate medical needs and their cost of living until maximum recovery. With the Jones Act, workers can seek compensation for all damages caused by an accident including lost wages, pain and suffering, and much more.
Because many workers hear of the Jones Act during cases involving serious offshore injuries, they aren’t aware that the Jones Act applies to most workers who are employed on a vessel, even if it doesn’t go out to sea. If you’re employed on a vessel in any way, it’s important to know that you might be protected by the Jones Act.
Qualifying for the Jones Act as a Seaman
First things first: to qualify for the Jones Act, a worker must qualify as a seaman under the law. While this definition is broad, it can be boiled down to a simple concept. A Jones Act seaman is a person who spends most of their time working on a vessel in navigation. This means that a person doesn’t have to be out at sea to qualify as a seaman. They can work in a harbor on a tugboat, in a channel on a dredging vessel, or even on barges.
Determining Jones Act Vessels
Historically, the most complicated aspect of some Jones Act claims doesn’t have to do with whether a person is a Jones Act seaman. Instead, some confusion existed over what makes a vessel “in navigation" and thus under the Jones Act.
In 2005, the Supreme Court helped clarify what made a vessel qualify for the Jones Act after an injured crewmember of a dredging vessel had his claim denied in a lower court. The lower court determined that the worker did not qualify for the Jones Act because the vessel he worked focused on dredging rather than navigation. The Supreme Court overturned this ruling. It decided that the dredging vessel, and others like it, qualify for the Jones Act because of their ability to navigate.
Simply put, a Jones Act vessel is one that:
- Is in operation
- Can move
- Is in navigable waters
In other words, this decision made it easier for offshore workers to make a Jones Act claim in instances where their legal rights might have been doubted. Today, crews of all types of ships don’t have to worry about the specific job their vessel accomplishes. Instead, they can work knowing that the Jones Act applies to them just as much as it applies to large ships navigating through open waters.