The Jones Act
The Jones Act is federal legislation that regulates maritime commerce. One of the provisions of the law gives those who regularly face the perils of the sea – seamen such as merchant mariners, commercial fishermen, and tug boaters – with a right to sue their employers for injuries sustained in the course of their employment. Unlike land-based workers who are covered by state workers’ compensation for on-the-job injuries, many maritime workers are protected by the Jones Act.
If you work on a vessel and have been injured due to the negligence of another, the Jones Act might apply to you. You should seek compensation for your injuries by contacting an experienced Portland or Seattle maritime injury attorney.
Jones Act Lawyer
If you were injured while working in the service of a vessel or offshore contact the Jones Act lawyers of Anderson Carey Williams & Neidzwski, PLLC today. Our attorneys can help you determine whether you are entitled to compensation under the Jones Act. If you’ve suffered an injury that was due to an action or omission by your employer or coworker, you may have a claim for recovery of monetary compensation. Call Anderson Carey Williams & Neidzwski, PLLC at 1 (800) 262-8529 or send an online message to schedule a free consultation to discuss your claim.
Jones Act Information Center
- Jones Act Offers Protection to Seamen
- Jones Act Employers’ High Duty of Care Owed to Seamen
- Types of Pacific Northwest Accidents Covered under Jones Act
- Eligibility for Jones Act Protections: Seaman Status
- What Seamen Can Recover Under the Jones Act: Money Damages
The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, commonly called the Jones Act after its sponsor Washington Senator Wesley Jones, regulates maritime commerce in this country. The Jones Act legislatively overruled prior Supreme Court precedent named The Osceola that prevented seamen from recovering for injuries caused by officers or crew. Congress determined seamen should have this right because of their exposure to the “perils of the sea.” For on the job injuries, the rights of seamen are superior to those of land-based workers and even other maritime workers.
In 46 U.S.C. § 30104, the Jones Act gives seamen who suffer injury or are killed during the course of their employment the right to seek justice through civil courts. Unlike most workers, they have the right to sue their employer in tort and have a jury trial. Congress borrowed language from the Federal Employers Liability Act when drafting the Jones Act. Thus, Congress gave seamen the same causes of action that had been available to railroad workers, including the right to sue their employers for personal injury in a negligence claim.
Jones Act employers owe a high duty of care to their employees. The Jones Act imposes liability upon maritime employers like for injury to a crewmember, whenever the evidence demonstrates that the employer’s negligence played any part, even the slightest, in producing the injury for which damages are sought. The employer’s high duty of care includes an obligation to provide the crew a safe place in which to work, and safe work methods and a failure to do so gives rise to liability under the Jones Act.
Washington and Oregon maritime employers must act in accord with industry standards and regulations designed to protect workers employed in the often dangerous maritime commerce. Failure to carry out the duty of care or, in other words, a breach of the duty of care, is called “negligence” under the general maritime law. Negligence includes both actions and omissions.
The sea is a dangerous place to work. Thus, it is an employer’s obligation to ensure that precautions are in place and that procedures are properly executed in order to reduce those risks. For instance, if a deck is slippery immediately after a crane leaks hydraulic fluid and there has been no time to mop it up, and you fall and have an injury, you may not have a Jones Act claim against your employer in Seattle or Portland. However, if the deck is slippery and your employer knows it and does nothing about it, he may be liable for your injuries.
The seas are an extremely dangerous place to work, with a very high rate of accidents, injuries and death. However, many of the injuries caused are preventable when proper procedures are implemented and followed and if everyone on the crew, including the supervisors, are doing their job. When that doesn’t happen, your employer may be at fault for not carrying out its obligations under the Jones Act. Examples of accidents that occur on vessels hailing from Seattle and Portland include the following:
- Amputated finger while bringing in nets;
- Broken arm from a fall on a slippery deck;
- Shoulder injury due to improper procedures;
- Head injury from negligent crane operation;
- Back injury in a factory processing accident;
- Spinal cord injury from lifting heavy equipment;
- Traumatic Brain Injury from overhead gear collapsing; or
- Hypothermia and drowning from falls overboard.
The Jones Act applies to “seamen.” This has been defined in the past to mean any person who is employed in navigation, whose job contributed to the accomplishment of the vessel’s mission, or to the operation or maintenance of the vessel either at sea, at anchor or tied up in preparation for future trips. The current test for seaman status was created by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1995 in a case called Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers the Pacific Coast states, articulates the seaman status test as follows:
The maritime worker must prove that he or she was a “seaman” in order to recover under the Jones Act. To prove seaman status, the plaintiff must prove the following elements by a preponderance of the evidence:
- the plaintiff contributed to the mission or operation of a vessel or an identifiable group of vessels in navigation, whether underway or at anchor; and
- the plaintiff had an employment-related connection to a vessel or an identifiable group of vessels, which was substantial in terms of both duration and nature.
The Ninth Circuit offers the following commentary to further explain the test:
The phrase “vessel in navigation” is not limited to traditional ships or boats, but includes every type of watercraft or artificial contrivance used, or practically capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water.
The phrase “substantial in duration” means that the plaintiff’s connection to the vessel or an identifiable group of vessels must be more than merely sporadic, temporary, or incidental.
The phrase “substantial in nature” means that it must regularly expose him or her to the special hazards and disadvantages that are characteristic of a seaman’s work.
Generally, all officers and crew members permanently assigned to a vessel or an identified fleet of vessels under common ownership or control meet the test for seaman status. This is a broad definition that covers a wide range of marine-based employment — not just employees on traditional vessels, like fishing boats, tug boats, and tankers, but also many employees on processing barges, derrick barges and other floating work platforms. It may apply both when the vessel is in navigation on the water in the North Pacific, Gulf of Alaska, or Bering Sea, and when it is docked in a port like Portland or Seattle. Fishermen may qualify for the Jones Act’s protection if they are injured in the shipyard preparing their vessel for an upcoming season, even if they never stepped foot on the boat.
If you are injured and are not sure whether you would qualify as a Jones Act seaman, consult a Seattle maritime injury lawyer. Even if you do not, you could have a claim under the general maritime law, LHWCA or state law.
The objective of a Jones Act negligence claim is to make you whole for your injuries. You should be compensated for the injuries and the damages that stem from those injuries. The recoverable damages you may recover in a successful negligence claims are monetary compensation for the following:
- Diminished earning capacity
- Lost wages, past and future
- Past medical bills
- Pain and suffering
- Lost future ability to work
- Future medical care
- Vocational rehabilitation
- Mental anguish
- Emotional distress
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Permanent impairments
Your recovery depends on your case and what damages your lawyer can prove. Your Washington or Oregon employer’s insurance company may offer you a settlement. The insurance company’s goal is to make your case go away with paying as little as possible. Remember: the insurance representative handling your claim does not work for you, but your lawyer will. Your lawyer can negotiate a better settlement that more accurately reflects your damages.
Anderson Carey Williams & Neidzwski, PLLC | Washington, Oregon Jones Act Injury Attorney
If you’ve been injured while working on a vessel, you may have protections and the ability to recover for your damages under federal law. Let the experienced Portland Jones Act attorneys at Anderson Carey Williams & Neidzwski, PLLC help you. Call us today at 1 (800) 262-8529 or send an online message to set up a free consultation.