The Office of Administrative Law Judges within the U.S. Department of Labor tried to answer the question of who is covered under the Jones Act? The resource explained that one must explore both the Jones Act and the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) to determine which program applies to a plaintiff.
In general, for Jones Act protection, the injured person must be a seaman on a vessel that is in navigation. A wrinkle in this approach, however, is that the U. S. Supreme Court says that a worker can have coverage under the Jones Act whether on or off the ship if that person has seaman status.
Seaman Status Demystified… or Not
Unfortunately, the Jones Act does not provide a definition of “seaman.” The LHWCA uses the term “masters or members of any crew” in the list of people who do not have coverage under the LHWCA, rather than saying “seamen.”
In the absence of clear guidance from either Act, courts developed two factors to use when deciding whether a given plaintiff is a seaman with Jones Act protection:
- The injured person must have a substantial connection to a vessel in navigation but having a connection to a group of vessels in navigation rather than one specific vessel can suffice.
- The plaintiff must be an employee whose job tasks help the vessel to function to fulfill its objective.
At the end of the day, judges must evaluate both the legal issues and the facts of each case to answer the question of whether an individual qualifies as a seaman for purposes of Jones Act coverage. The question came before the U. S. Supreme Court at least four times, but those cases did not result in a clear definition of the term “seaman” under the Jones Act.
A Summary of The Jones Act Provisions on Liability and Coverage
Reading the language of the Jones Act itself, we see that the Jones Act can provide legal remedies for injured seaman and passengers of ships.
When a seaman gets injured on the job, he can sue the employer in civil court, according to 46 U.S. Code § 30104. The plaintiff can either have a jury trial or a bench trial, meaning that the judge would decide the case and not a jury. If the seaman’s injuries are fatal, the personal representative of the deceased can file the lawsuit.
A passenger can pursue money damages against the vessel and its owner for personal injuries, according to 46 U.S. Code § 30102.
Grounds for Liability
46 U.S. Code § 30103 provides that when the pilot, master, mate, or engineer of a vessel causes personal injury to someone through:
- Willful misconduct, or
- Failing to follow navigational laws, either intentionally or negligently,
The injured person can bring a civil action against the at-fault party.
How Long You Have to File a Lawsuit Seeking Compensation Under the Jones Act
46 U.S. Code § 30106 says that the time limit for filing a lawsuit for maritime injuries is three years, whether for personal injury or death. If you miss the deadline, you can lose the right to pursue money damages for your losses. Please be sure to talk to a lawyer well in advance of the two-year deadline, as it takes time to investigate potential injury claims and draft the legal documents the court requires.
The Difference Between the Jones Act and the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA)
The U.S. Department of Labor explains the difference between the Jones Act and the LHWCA. Both pieces of legislation allow maritime employees to seek compensation for job-related injuries or death, but the two acts cover different categories of workers. The LHWCA covers shipbuilders, longshore workers, harbor construction workers, ship-repairers, and ship breakers. These workers are traditional maritime employees.
The LHWCA can also cover some non-maritime employees if their work takes place on navigable water, and that is where the injury occurs. Maritime employees’ injuries must take place in the United States navigable waters or qualifying adjoining locations.
Examples of qualifying locations include areas used for loading and unloading vessels, docks, piers, wharves, and terminals.
The Jones Act covers masters and crew members of any vessel on navigable water. The Jones Act references “seamen” as falling under the protection of the Act, and the LHWCA extends that term to mean an employee working on the ship in furtherance of the ship’s mission. The ship’s crew member does not have to perform navigation or other transportation-related tasks to get covered under the Jones Act.
An injured person cannot collect benefits from both programs for the same injury. The two acts are mutually exclusive.
How to Get Legal Help for Your Jones Act Claim
Laborde Earles Injury Lawyers handles maritime injuries and can explain your legal rights and remedies. We can handle your injury claim so that you can focus your energy on getting better. You can call us today at (337) 777-7777 for a free consultation.