Jones Act

 About The Jones Act

The Jones-Shafroth Act (more commonly know simply as “The Jones Act,”) falls under Section 27 of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (46 U.S.C. 883; 19 CFR 4.80 and 4.80b).  The Jones Act was signed into law on March 2, 1917 by President Woodrow Wilson.  The Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (P.L. 66-261) is a United States Federal statute that regulates maritime commerce in U.S. waters and between U.S. ports and provides for substantial rights for seaman.

The Merchant Marine Act of 1920 has been revised a number of times, and amendments to the Jones Act, known as the Cargo Preference Act (P.L. 83-644), provide permanent legislation for the transportation of waterborne cargoes in U.S.-flag vessels.

The Jones Act establishes several important purposes including:

  • Cargo moving between U.S. ports must be carried in a vessel that was built in the United States and is at least 75% owned by American citizens or corporations.
  • Requires that workers and crew members on vessels covered under the Jones Act  be American citizens or legal aliens.
  • Regulates seamen’s health, accident, and disability benefits

Types of Claims Made Under The Jones Act

An Act is a type of law that contains rules and regulations that relate to specific situations and circumstances.  The Jones Act gives seamen the right to seek compensation for serious injuries sustained due to the negligence of co-workers or an employer while the seaman was working as an employee on a vessel.

Under The Jones Act injured workers may be able to sue an employer even when the duties of the job being performed were known to be dangerous.  For example, commercial fishing has been ranked as the single most dangerous profession in the United States more often than any other profession.  Working on a commercial fishing boat clearly presents a high risk of danger.  However, if the seaman’s employer committed even a small breach of duty that created or led to conditions that caused an injury the employer may be held liable for accidents even in high-risk jobs.

In addition to compensation for injuries that are caused by negligence, under The Jones Act, an injured seaman may also make a claim against the vessel’s owner on the basis that the vessel was not seaworthy. An employer may also be liable for failing to provide a seaman with adequate medical care.

Under The Jones Act injured seamen can seek to recover damages for lost wages since the accident as well as future economic and non-economic losses.

Definition of A “Jones Act Seaman”

Only a “seaman” can recover under the Jones Act.  In Chandris, Inc., v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347, 115 S.Ct. 2172 (1995), the United States Supreme Court set standards for determining the status of any employee as a “Jones Act seaman.”

To be considered a “seaman” for purposes of filing a claim under the Jones Act:

  • A worker must spend 30% or more of his/her time in the service of a vessel on navigable waters;
  • Must be a member of the crew of a vessel;
  • May also be someone assigned to a fleet of vessels by the employer.

Eligible seaman may bring legal action in a U.S. federal court or in a state court.  The seaman/Plaintiff is entitled to a jury trial, a right which is not afforded in maritime law absent a statute authorizing it.

The above guidelines may seem clear, but it is not always so simple in establishing seaman status in Jones Act lawsuits.  The circumstances of each case and situation must be carefully evaluated by an experienced maritime law attorney.

Experienced San Diego, San Pedro, CA and Honolulu, HI Jones Act Attorneys

Because laws are subject to change and/or clarification through amendments, and the way existing laws are interpreted and applied can be altered by new published decisions that become case law, it is important that you hire an attorney who specializes in maritime law.  The Law Firm of Preston Easley devotes its entire practice to maritime law.  

California and Hawaii Maritime injury and accident attorney Preston Easley is an experienced and aggressive plaintiff’s trial lawyer and appellate lawyer.  At the appellate level Preston Easley has been a pioneer in expanding the rights of injured workers, frequently reversing lower court decisions and making new law.   His extensive legal experience includes several landmark decisions under The Jones Act on behalf of his clients.

There is a strict statute of limitations on filing maritime claims so it is important that you take the first step towards helping yourself. For a free initial consultation, call or email our law firm today.