Jones Act of 1920

The purpose of the Jones Act of 1920, also known as the Merchant Marine Act, is to provide compensation for seamen who have been injured in the course of their employment. Like the Federal Employers’ Liability Act for railroad workers, the Jones Act is an alternative to traditional workers’ compensation statutes. The Jones Act allows an injured seaman to pursue a negligence action against his employer for money damages that represent, among other things, lost wages, pain and suffering, and emotional distress. Should the injury result in the seaman’s death, the Jones Act also authorizes an action by the seaman’s personal representative, with any damages recovered going to the seaman’s spouse, children, or parents as the case may be.

A seaman’s recovery under the Jones Act includes maintenance and cure. “Maintenance” consists of a small daily allowance that represents what would have been received by the seaman for food and shelter while he was on board the vessel. “Cure” is what the employer must pay for the seaman’s medical treatment until such point that the seaman’s condition will no longer improve or he is found to be permanently disabled.

Unlike workers’ compensation statutes where proof of fault is unnecessary, a recovery under the Jones Act requires a showing that the seaman’s injury was caused by either 1) the negligence of his employer, or the employer’s owners, operators, officers, or employees, or 2) from a defect in the vessel or its gear, tackle, or equipment. The basis for the action stems from the employer’s duty to provide a safe working environment for its employees.

In addition to proving fault, a recovery under the Jones Act requires that the seaman prove his status as such. It is generally recognized that a seaman is an individual who is a member of a crew of a vessel. This definition includes, among others, individuals who work on certain drilling rigs, tankers, barges, and freighters. The determination of “seaman” status will turn on the facts of each particular case with special attention being paid to the length of the workers’ connection with the vessel and the nature of the workers’ activities.

A Jones Act lawsuit can be brought in the state where the employer resides or has its principal place of business. A three-year statute of limitations window applies, which generally accrues from the date of the seaman’s injury.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.