The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, also called the “Jones Act,” provides protection for “seamen,” giving them the right to seek damages for injuries experienced on the job. Defining a “seaman” can be difficult. People who spend a minority of their time at sea may qualify, while others seek compensation under another law.

Washington and Oregon Lawyer for Seamen Under the Jones Act

If you have been hurt on the job in the Pacific Northwest and believe you might qualify as a seaman under the Jones Act, or have any questions as to whether you will, your best decision is to contact a knowledgeable maritime lawyer who can answer your questions and represent you to seek the compensation you deserve. Contact BOATLAW, LLP today at 1-800-262-8529 to schedule a consultation to discuss your situation.

At BOATLAW, LLP, we represent clients in federal courts in Washington, Oregon, Alaska and California.

Information on Who Jones Act Covers

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Supreme Court Definition of “Seaman”

The Jones Act itself does not define “seaman.” The U.S. Supreme Court, which has the fina say in interpreting laws passed by Congress and signed by the President (like the Jones Act), has had the Jones Act come before it several times.

In Harbor Tug & Barge Co. v. Papai, the Supreme Court laid out the requirements that qualify a person as a seaman. The Court said that a seaman is a person who has:

    1. Duties that contribute to the vessel’s function or accomplishing its mission; and
    2. A connection to the vessel in navigation that is “substantial in terms of both its duration and its nature.”

Harbor Tug & Barge Co. v. Papai, 520 U.S. 548, 554, 117 S.Ct. 1535, 1540 (1997).

The term “vessel” can also mean an identifiable fleet, which is a group of vessels with the same ownership. Additionally, the substantial connection concentrates on whether the employee’s duties require he or she go to sea in order to distinguish land-based employees from those who are sea-based. The nature of the connection is, thus, important to determining seaman status.

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Contributing to the Vessel’s Function or Mission

The Supreme Court and lower courts have adopted a fairly broad approach to whether or not a person’s job duties contributed to the vessel’s function or mission. Clearly, people who have a direct role in the ship’s navigation are covered.

The law also covers those who have jobs on a ship that may not fit the typical maritime description. For example, waiters, cooks, janitors, electrical workers and plumbers can all fit under the definition of the Jones Act and seek compensation for injuries under the law.

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Connection to the Vessel or Fleet

The worker must have a substantial connection with either a specific vessel or with a fleet f vessels that share a common owner. A person who works with ships may spend a great deal of their time on land — in some cases, even a majority of their time.

Courts have used a “rule of thumb” that a person who spends about 30 percent of his or her time on the job in the service of the vessel may seek compensation for injuries under the Jones Act.

It is important to understand that to recover for an on-the-job injury under this law the injury did not have to actually occur on the boat. It just must take place within the scope of the employee’s duties.

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Other Laws Protecting People in the Maritime Industry

Some of these issues are still being litigated in courts. There are few lear lines as to whether or not a person is a “seaman” under the Jones Act.

If you have been injured either at sea or on the job in an industry that relates to vessels or seafaring, your best bet is to contact a maritime attorney. Even if you do not qualify as a seaman under the Jones Act, other laws may apply, such as the Longshore and Harbor Worker’s Compensation Act or the Death on the High Seas Act.

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Finding the Best Maritime Attorney to Help You with Jones Act Qualification Questions

If you were injured while on the job in any maritime profession, a skilled Washington maritime lawyer at BOATLAW, LLP can help determine under what law or laws you will be best able to seek compensation; whether it is as a seaman under the Jones Act or other legislation. Call us today at 1-800-262-8529 to set up a consultation to discuss your circumstances.