All maritime employees are not protected by the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30104, which is a federal law that regulates the maritime trade between U.S. waters and ports.
While all maritime workers have legal rights, not all can access workers’ compensation or other benefits through the Jones Act. To qualify to file a Jones Act claim, a maritime worker must be a seaman as defined by provisions within the law. Those who cannot file a Jones Act claim may have other legal options.
Filing for Jones Act Claim
Eligible seaman injured due to negligence of a Jones Act qualified vessel’s owner, employer, or coworker, can file a legal claim to obtain compensation for certain damages. Here is the general process for making a Jones Act personal injury claim:
- Report your injury immediately to the captain, your employer, or a senior officer. Federal Maritime Law gives you seven days from the date of the accident to report the injury, but do not wait that long. Do not try to stay on duty before reporting the accident because the vessel’s insurer may think you were not hurt enough to receive compensation.
- Seek medical assistance immediately. Save proof of any medications or diagnostic tests you take. Even if it is a minor injury, it is important to have a physician or medical personnel examine your injury so it is recorded and later can be used as medical proof.
- When you report the injury, ensure that the captain enters it into the ship’s log. Also, know that the captain or your employer is legally obligated to file a report using form CG-2692.
- When your company provides an accident report, make sure to fill it out as soon as possible. Try to be as detailed and accurate as possible in the form, especially when filling out the section about who caused the injury. If you are confused about the at-fault party, seek legal representation immediately.
- The captain will then send the form to the Human Resources (H.R.) department, which will forward it to the workers’ compensation office.
If the vessel’s insurance tries to make you give any written statements after receiving the CG-2692, or if you feel coerced into signing any forms that you do not want to, consult a lawyer immediately to protect your rights to compensation.
Remember that insurance is like just another profit-driven company. Their goal is to minimize the value of your claim as much as possible. A maritime accident attorney will be able to look at all the evidence in the form of medical reports, accident reports, and witness statements to make your claim as strong and airtight as possible.
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Definition of a Seaman Under the Jones Act
According to the Jones Act, a ‘seaman’ is any crew member on a vessel who:
- Contributes to the vessel’s accomplishment of its mission.
- Spends a significant amount of time working as a crew member on a vessel that is in “navigation.” This does not mean that the vessel needs to be moving at sea. It simply means that the vessel is afloat, in operation, capable of movement, or on navigable waters (used for interstate or foreign trade).
- Spends at least 30 percent of their total working hours on the vessel or a specific fleet of vessels.
Employee’s Work Must Contribute to the Vessel
Although contract workers and part-time maritime workers contribute to work on the vessel, this factor alone is not enough to define such workers as seamen.
They Must Be on Board When the Ship Is in Operation
Some workers whose employers operate seafaring ships may not contribute to a vessel’s functions or go out to sea on the boat. Their injuries likely would not fall under this act.
They Must Spend a Significant Amount of Time Working on the Vessel
To be considered a seaman, a maritime worker must spend a significant amount of time working on the ship. However, this amount can be subjective.
In other words, certain circumstances could allow a maritime worker to meet this requirement even if they do not spend the required 30 percent of their time aboard a single vessel.
What Vessels Are Covered Under Jones Act?
1 U.S. Code § 3 defines a Jones Act qualified vessel as “every description of watercraft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water.”
The Jones Act vessels must be built, owned, and operated by United States citizens or permanent residents. The vessel must also be capable of navigation. This does not mean that it needs to be out in the sea, nor does it not need to be able to self-propel. But it must be capable of movement. A fishing vessel or a dredge towed from one site to the next will qualify as a Jones Act vessel.
Here are some of the water vessels that may be eligible under the Jones Act:
- Cargo ships
- Passenger ferries
- Dredges and pontoon rafts
- Commercial fishing boats
- Oceangoing hips
- Drilling Ships
- Commercial fishing boats
- Semi-submersible rigs
Maritime Workers Who Are Not Covered Under the Jones Act
Maritime workers not covered by the Jones Act could include longshore workers, harbor workers, and contractors. Instead of filing a Jones Act claim, these workers may need support from the Department of Labor’s Division of Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation (DLHWC).
This entity deals specifically with workers who do not qualify as seamen under the Jones Act but instead have rights under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA).
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The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act
According to the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, the LHWCA provides compensation for longshore and harbor workers who suffer injuries on the job but do not qualify for a Jones Act claim.
This compensation can include medical expenses, rehabilitation, and other services needed due to a maritime injury. The LHWCA covers many maritime workers and those who are not maritime workers but who perform work on the water or in the harbor.
The LHWCA covers injuries that occur on “navigable waters.” A maritime accidents attorney can help you determine which law covers your accident and how you can pursue benefits to cover your medical bills and a portion of your lost wages.
What Is the Difference Between the LHWCA and the Jones Act?
The main difference between the LHWCA and the Jones Act is that the Jones Act only applies to crew members who meet the definition of ‘seaman.’ The LHWCA applies to almost anyone else injured while working on a vessel in navigable waters.
Occasionally, someone may work aboard a vessel who does not qualify for injury benefits under either of these federal laws. Often, they are employees of the federal government or another governmental agency and have coverage through other means.
There may also be workers aboard seafaring vessels who handle administrative or clerical work. This employment role often qualifies employees for other programs, such as Louisiana workers’ compensation insurance benefits.
What If My Seaman Family Member Died at Sea?
When a maritime worker dies aboard a ship out to sea, it may be because:
- The vessel is unseaworthy.
- Their employer or the boat owner acted negligently.
If there is evidence to support this and they were more than three miles from the coast, immediate family members may be able to file a civil lawsuit under the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA). This federal law allows the family to recover damages that include:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Loss of income and other financial support
- Additional financial expenses and losses caused by the Death
- Intangible damages suffered by surviving family members
An attorney from our team can determine if the circumstances of your loved one’s Death meet the criteria for this type of action.
Legal Options for Maritime Workers
If you are a maritime employee, your job is significantly different from most jobs on land, from your work hours to the tasks you perform while onboard the vessel. In addition, you may travel from land to harbor to open water regularly, making it challenging to determine jurisdiction if local laws apply.
For these reasons, maritime workers are not regulated by the same employment laws as most workers. Instead, the federal government has separate laws to provide for the rights of all maritime workers, including contractors, part-time workers, and full-time crew members.
The Jones Act and similar laws seek to provide maritime workers with the help they need after a workplace injury. When accidents lead to time away from work, missed wages, medical expenses, and other costs and losses, these laws help workers to:
- Pay for medical treatment
- Take time off from work to heal
- Continue supporting their households and families until they can return to work
The laws for maritime workers can be complex, and you may be unsure whether you are covered by the Jones Act, the LHWCA, or another statute. Working with a maritime injury lawyer when filing your claim can help ensure that you do so correctly.
Get a Free Review of Your Maritime Injury Case Today
Our law firm provides free case reviews to all prospective clients and represents injured seamen and other maritime workers on a contingency fee basis. This means a member of our team will discuss your case and legal options with you today at no cost to your family. It also means we charge no upfront fees or retainer, and you only pay if we deliver compensation to you.
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