Jones Act Damages

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) 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 maritime injury attorney.

Washington, Alaska, Oregon, and California Jones Act Lawyers

If you were injured while working offshore or in the service of a vessel, contact the Jones Act lawyers of Anderson Carey Williams & Neidzwski, LLP today. Our attorneys can help you determine whether you are entitled to compensation under the Jones Act.

When it comes to lawsuits under the Jones Act, our attorneys represent injured seamen in state and federal courts from coast to coast and across the Pacific Northwest, including claims in Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and California. Contact the attorneys at Anderson Carey Williams & Neidzwski, LLP to find out how much your claim might be worth.

Call 1 (800) 262-8529 or send an online message to schedule a free consultation to discuss your claim.

Information Center on the Jones Act

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Who Counts as A Seaman?

The term seaman encompasses several different professions, including but not limited to:

  • Fisherman
  • Deckhands
  • Divers
  • Anchors
  • Captains
  • Engineers
  • Stewards
  • Drillers

To be protected by the Jones Act, a seaman’s primary job function must be offshore or on a vessel tied to a dock but capable of navigating on water. A boat that is being prepared still counts as a vessel that is “in navigation” because it is docked but generally still in the water.

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Jones Act Offers Protection to Seamen

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. The Jones Act gives seamen who suffer an 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.

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Jones Act Employers’ High Duty of Care Owed to Seamen

Jones Act employers owe a high duty of care to their employees. The Jones Act imposes liability upon maritime employers for injury to a crew member 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 to work and safe work methods. A failure to do so gives rise to liability under the Jones Act.

Maritime employers must act in accord with industry standards and regulations designed to protect workers employed in the often dangerous field of 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, and it is an employer’s obligation to ensure that precautions are in place and procedures are properly executed in order to reduce 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.

On the other hand, if the deck is slippery and your employer knows it and does nothing about it, he may be liable for your injuries.

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Types of Accidents Covered under Jones Act

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.

When that doesn’t happen, your employer may be at fault for not carrying out their obligations under the Jones Act. Examples of accidents that occur on vessels 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
  • Hypothermia and drowning from falling overboard

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Eligibility for the Jones Act’s Protections: Seaman Status

The Jones Act applies to “seamen.” This has been defined in the past to mean any person who is employed in navigation and 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:

  1. 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
  2. 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 the seaman must regularly expose themselves to the special hazards and disadvantages that are characteristic of a seaman’s work.

As a general rule, 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.

The broad definition of seaman covers a wide range of marine-based employment, not just employees on traditional vessels, like fishing boats, tugboats, and tankers. Many employees on processing barges, derrick barges and other floating work platforms also fall under the definition of seaman.

The Jones Act may apply both when the vessel is in navigation on the water, such as in the North Pacific, Gulf of Alaska, or Bering Sea, and when it is docked in a port, like Portland or Seattle.

Fishermen may also qualify for Jones Act protection if they are injured in the shipyard preparing their vessel for an upcoming season, even if they have not stepped foot on the boat.

If you are injured and are not sure whether you qualify as a Jones Act seaman, consult a maritime injury lawyer. Even if you do not qualify as a seaman, you may have a claim under the general maritime law, LHWCA, or state law.


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Damages and Benefits Under the Jones Act

The objective of a Jones Act negligence claim is to make you whole for your injuries.

Damages under the Jones Act are generally covered in four categories: loss of earnings, medical expenses, pain and suffering, and punitive damages.

Loss Of Earnings

Loss of earnings covers more than just present earnings, it also covers future earning capacity loss and employee benefits, such as vacation time, 401K, and pensions, if available. Calculating current lost earnings is generally easy because the employee knows their salary and how many hours of work were missed due to their injury. However, future earnings may be more challenging to calculate because raises, increased benefits, and potential promotions must be taken into consideration but are difficult to estimate because they are speculative.

Medical Expenses

In addition to the loss of earnings, an injured seaman is covered for present and future medical expenses. Current medical expenses are relatively easy to calculate because there are invoices, but future medical expenses are based on what medical treatment may be necessary for a full recovery. Therefore, future medical expenses may include, but are not limited to:

  • Follow-up exams
  • Medication
  • Travel expenses to doctor appointments
  • Physical therapy
  • Rehabilitation
  • Surgeries

To determine these costs, an attorney will generally consult medical professionals and experts in the field who can estimate what procedures will be necessary.

Pain And Suffering

Damages for pain and suffering are non-economic damages. Non-economic damages are those that do not have a tangible, quantifiable dollar value, which make them hard to prove. Several factors will be used to determine the damage amount for pain and suffering, including, the mental and physical anguish suffered in the past and which can be expected to continue into the future, the effect that the plaintiff’s injuries has had on their mental or physical health, and the disfigurement along with the humiliation or embarrassment associated with the disfigurement.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are allowed under the Jones Act if an employer was negligent in providing a seaworthy vessel to employees. To receive punitive damages, it usually must be proven that there was a knowing and reckless disregard for employee safety.

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Negligence Under the Jones Act

Common examples of negligence for employers of seaman include:

  • Failure to perform regular maintenance on equipment and parts
  • Failure to provide proper safety gear
  • Failure to instruct and ensure that warning signs are placed in hazardous areas
  • Failure to provide a seaworthy vessel

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Application To Cruise Ships

While the Act was not designed to protect employees of cruise ships, in some circumstances it will if they have a different beginning and end destination. For example, cruises that begin and end at a U.S. Port will not generally be covered under the Act, but a cruise that starts in the United States and ends in Europe may be covered.

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Additional Resources

United States Customs and Border Protection – This website provides more information on the Jones Act.

Shipbuilders Council of America – This website provides more information concerning the United States maritime industry.

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Jones Act Attorneys |  Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and California

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. Find out more about the average settlement under the Jones and how the average Jones Act settlement varies in the States of California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska.

Let the experienced attorneys at Anderson Carey Williams & Neidzwski, LLP help you with your Jones Act claim. Contact us today by calling 1 (800) 262-8529 or send an online message to set up a free consultation.


  • The Maritime Law Association of The United States
    The Maritime Law Association of the United States (MLA) was founded in 1899. Its formation was prompted by the organization, some three years earlier, of the International Maritime Committee.
  • Washington State Bar Association
    The Washington State Bar Association operates under the delegated authority of the Washington Supreme Court to license the state's nearly 40,000 lawyers and other legal professionals.
  • Oregon State Bar
    The Oregon State Bar is a government agency in the U.S. state of Oregon. Founded in 1890 as the private Oregon Bar Association, it became a public entity in 1935 that regulates the legal profession.
  • Alaska Bar Association
    The Alaska Bar Association is a mandatory bar association responsible to the Alaska Supreme Court for the admission and discipline process of attorneys for the State of Alaska.