As Jones Act attorneys, we often receive questions about the Jones Act in maritime law: What is the Jones Act in maritime law? When was the Jones Act passed? What does the Jones Act do? And perhaps most importantly: Am I covered by the Jones Act?
The Jones Act is best known for the role it plays in regulating the shipping of the United States’s goods, but parts of the Jones Act — the parts we will focus on here — help to formalize the rights of North American seamen with regard to injury claims.
Learn how the Jones Act functions within maritime law, who may be covered under the Jones Act, and why retaining representation that’s familiar with the Jones Act is important.
What is the Jones Act in maritime law, and what does the Jones Act do?
Passed 100 years ago as part of the larger Maritime Marine Act of 1920, the Jones Act contains regulations pertaining to two major areas of maritime law: cabotage and the rights of seamen.
You cannot truly answer the question, “What is the Jones Act in maritime law?” without addressing the issue of cabotage. (Click here to skip to the rights of seamen.) At the time of the Jones Act was passed, cabotage was considered the transportation and trade of goods between two ports in the same country via coastal waters. Today, cabotage includes goods transported via airways.
The Jones Act stipulates that goods can be shipped between two U.S. ports only if the transportation is carried out by a U.S. flagship that was constructed in the U.S., owned by a citizen of the U.S. and has a crew made up of at least 75% U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Jones Act exemptions are rare, but have occurred after natural disasters (such as hurricanes).
The act was introduced by and named for Washington Senator Wesley Jones, who claimed that the act would bolster both national defense and commerce. Many have argued that the effects of the Jones Act on Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Alaska made trade in those states more expensive.
The rights of seamen:
As outlined in statute 46 U.S.C. § 30104, the Jones Act extends the rights outlined in the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA) to seamen. Specifically, the Jones Act states:
“A seaman injured in the course of employment or, if the seaman dies from the injury, the personal representative of the seaman may elect to bring a civil action at law, with the right of trial by jury, against the employer. Laws of the United States regulating recovery for personal injury to, or death of, a railway employee apply to an action under this section.”
The statute goes on to clarify that a seaman has the right to claim damages if an employer’s negligence wholly or partially caused a plaintiff’s injury. While every case is different, the following are acts of negligence commonly associated with Jones Act claims:
- Knowingly giving negligent instructions or orders
- Failure to avoid extreme weather despite a clear knowledge of its existence
- Failure to hire competent crewmen
- Failure to maintain safe equipment
- Failure to provide medical treatment or rescue
Additionally, the statute stipulates that injuries covered by the Jones Act do not necessarily have to be work-related, but may have simply occurred onboard the ship where the seaman lives and/or works.
That the statute gives seaman the right to trial by jury is important; this right is not common in international maritime law unless otherwise stipulated by a statute. Cases are brought to either state or federal court.
Who qualifies as a seaman according to the Jones Act?
Unfortunately, the language of the Jones Act doesn’t specify who does and who does not qualify as a seaman. Some parameters have been loosely established, but these are frequently debated.
In short, not every person called a seaman qualifies as a Jones Act seaman. But a seaman may qualify for coverage under the Jones Act if they are:
- An individual who is an employee of a ship (or fleet) that operates within waterways used for national and international commerce.
- An individual who spends more than 30% or more of their time onboard said ship (an idea established in the U.S. Supreme Court case Chandris, Inc., v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347, 115 S.Ct. 2172 (1995).
Again, these parameters are not as straightforward as they may seem initially. If you’re not sure whether your status as a seaman qualifies you to claim damages under the Jones Act, reach out to your attorney.
FAQ: How does the Jones Act affect cruise ships? The Jones Act can protect cruise ship employees (excluding volunteers) who are injured on the ship, but does not typically apply to guests.
How can a Mithoff Law maritime lawyer help injured seaman who qualify under the Jones Act?
The Mithoff Law team have spent decades handling a wide range of maritime cases, including those involving statutes like the Jones Act and the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.
It can be very difficult to uncover the root cause of an accident and establish the role of negligence in a Jones Act claim. Once retained, our attorneys can work hard to collect and preserve evidence, including physical evidence, company incident reports, witness testimony, photographs, video footage, and more.
Our clients benefit from our experience navigating the complexities of general maritime law, our rigorous and evidence-based approach to investigation, and our access to subject-matter experts.
Whether you found your way to us by looking for a maritime lawyer in Houston, a catastrophic injury lawyer, a Houston wrongful death attorney, or simply by looking for the “best personal injury lawyer in Houston,” we encourage you to investigate Mithoff Law’s strong record of success in handling complex Jones Act cases.
Contact the experienced Jones Act lawyers at Mithoff Law
Think you may have a Jones Act claim? Have more questions like What is the Jones Act in maritime law? The attorneys at Mithoff Law are here for our nation’s seamen. We are dedicated to providing our clients with quality representation, and will zealously investigate your claim so that those responsible for your injuries are held to account.
To meet with one of Mithoff Law’s Jones Act attorneys and learn more about your options, call us today at 713-654-1122.
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