What You Need to Know about Jones Act Lawsuits

by | May 3, 2023 | Maritime Law, Personal Injury, Workplace Safety

The Jones Act, also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, is a federal law that regulates maritime commerce in the United States. The Jones Act also allows seamen who suffer on-the-job injuries due to negligence the ability to sue their employers for damages in civil court. Maritime workers are not covered by workers’ compensation benefits like land-based workers, so The Jones Act provides legal remedy for workers who are injured while in the course of their work.

The maritime industry is among the most dangerous in the world. Maritime workers who are injured deserve the opportunity to obtain compensation so they can recover physically and financially. At Kherkher Garcia, LLP, we work diligently to make sure that happens. Our maritime injury attorneys fight aggressively for the rights and future of maritime workers.

One way that we help maritime workers is by assessing their injury cases to see if they qualify for compensation under the Jones Act. Below, we provide helpful information about Jones Act lawsuits and how you can get help.

Basics of The Jones Act

The Jones Act is one of the most important maritime laws for those working in the industry. It provides protections and benefits for American workers in the maritime industry by requiring that ships operating between U.S. ports be owned by American citizens, built in the United States, and crewed by American citizens or legal residents.

Seamen who are injured on the job due to negligence may be eligible to file a Jones Act lawsuit and obtain compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other related expenses. This is a significant benefit for maritime workers, as it allows them to seek compensation beyond what is typically available through workers’ compensation or similar benefits.

The law has been controversial, with some arguing that it raises the cost of shipping and hurts the competitiveness of American companies in the global market. Others, however, contend that the Jones Act is essential for maintaining the nation’s maritime industry and ensuring the safety and well-being of American seamen.

What is Negligence Under the Jones Act?

Negligence under the Jones Act refers to the failure of an employer, vessel owner, or crew member to exercise reasonable care for the safety of seamen aboard a vessel. Negligence can take many forms, such as:

    • Not properly maintaining or repairing the vessel
    • Failing to provide adequate safety equipment or training
    • Failure to provide a safe working environment
    • Failing to follow industry safety standards and regulations
    • Failure to provide proper medical care after an injury
    • Failure to address known hazards or dangerous conditions on the vessel

To prove negligence under the Jones Act, the injured seaman must show that their employer, vessel owner, or crew member had a duty to provide a safe working environment, that this duty was breached, and that the breach of duty was the direct cause of the seaman’s injuries.

Do I Qualify for a Jones Act Lawsuit?

To qualify for a Jones Act lawsuit, you must be a “seaman,” and must have been injured while working on a vessel that considered “in navigation.” The Jones Act only applies to vessels that are primarily engaged in maritime commerce, which includes transportation of goods and passengers, fishing, and oil and gas exploration. Vessels that are not involved in maritime commerce, such as recreational boats, do not fall under the Jones Act.

If you meet the definition of a seaman and were injured due to negligence while working on a vessel in navigation, you may be eligible to file a Jones Act lawsuit.

Who is a “Seaman” Under Maritime Law?

Under maritime law, a seaman is someone who spends a significant amount of their employment as a crew member on a vessel in navigation. This includes workers such as captains, engineers, mates, cooks, and other crew members who work on vessels that are primarily engaged in maritime commerce.

To be considered a seaman under the Jones Act, a worker must have a connection to a specific vessel or fleet of vessels that are under common ownership or control. This connection typically involves spending at least 30% of their time working aboard the vessel or vessels.

Additionally, the worker’s employment must contribute to the function or mission of the vessel. This means that the worker’s job duties must be related to the operation, maintenance, or navigation of the vessel.

How to Prepare for a Jones Act Lawsuit

If you meet the eligibility requirements as a seaman injured on the job, you may be eligible to file a Jones Act lawsuit. As with any legal matter, there are certain requirements, processes, and procedures that you must follow. There are also some things you can do to prepare for a lawsuit and make the legal process smoother.

Here are some steps to help you prepare for a Jones Act lawsuit:

    • Seek Medical Attention: Your health and safety are the top priority. Seek medical attention as soon as possible after the injury, and follow your doctor’s advice for treatment and rehabilitation.
    • Report Your Injury: Notify your employer immediately about your injury, preferably in writing, and make sure you have a copy of the report. The report should include the details of the injury and how it occurred.
    • Gather Evidence: Collect any documentation or evidence that relates to your injury. It is a good idea to collect medical records, witness statements, accident reports, and photos. This will help support your case and show the extent of your injuries and the circumstances thereof.
    • Hire an Experienced Jones Act Attorney: It is essential to work with an attorney who has experience with Jones Act cases. They can guide you through the legal process and help you understand your rights and options.
    • Cooperate with Your Attorney: Your attorney will need your cooperation to build a strong case on your behalf. Be honest and provide them with all the information they need to prepare your case.
    • Be Prepared for Trial: While most Jones Act cases settle out of court, it is essential to be prepared for trial. This includes being ready to testify, providing deposition testimony, and attending any court hearings.

By following these steps and working with an experienced attorney, you can ensure that you are prepared for a Jones Act lawsuit and increase your chances of receiving the compensation you deserve for your injuries.

Statute of Limitations for Jones Act Cases

The statute of limitations for Jones Act cases in Texas is three years from the date of the injury. This means that a maritime worker who is injured on the job has three years from the date of the injury to file a lawsuit under the Jones Act. It is important to note that the statute of limitations is a strict deadline. If a lawsuit is not filed within the three-year window, you may lose your right to seek compensation through the court system. However, there are exceptions to the statute of limitations in certain circumstances, such as when the injury was not immediately apparent. Additionally, there may be exceptions if the injury occurs to a minor or someone who is mentally incapacitated. In these cases, there may be extensions to the statute of limitations.

Damages Available in Jones Act Lawsuits

Under the Jones Act, injured seamen can seek compensation for damages that arise from their employer’s negligence or an unseaworthy condition of the vessel. Compensation may include:

    • Maintenance and Cure: This is an obligation of the employer to pay for the seaman’s reasonable and necessary medical and living expenses while they are recovering from their injury.
    • Lost Wages: Seamen can recover lost wages if they are unable to work due to their injury. This includes wages lost during recovery and any future wages lost due to disability or impairment.
    • Pain and Suffering: Seamen can seek compensation for physical and emotional pain and suffering resulting from their injury.
    • Loss of Enjoyment of Life: If the injury results in a reduced quality of life, the seaman can seek compensation for loss of enjoyment of life.
    • Punitive Damages: In cases where the employer’s conduct was willful, wanton, or grossly negligent, the seaman may be able to recover punitive damages.

Compensation under the Jones Act can vary depending on the circumstances of the case. Additionally, the legal process for obtaining compensation can be complex. You should always work with a maritime injury attorney who can guide you through the process and ensure that you receive the compensation you deserve.

Learn More about The Jones Act and See if You Qualify

For more information about the Jones Act, or to see if you qualify for a Jones Act lawsuit, contact Kherkher Garcia for a free consultation. Our maritime offshore injury attorneys are committed to helping maritime workers and their families recover after an injury. This includes aggressive defense of your rights.

To get started, call us at 713-333-1030, or complete the form on our website.

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Steve Kherkher

Steve Kherkher

Founding Partner and Trial Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Injury Trial Lawyer and Founding Firm Partner Steve Kherkher. Steve has been a practicing injury lawyer for more than 30 years. He has won $300 Million+ in Settlements and Verdicts for his clients. He is a force to be reckoned with in the courtroom and the trial lawyer you want on your side if you or a loved one have been catastrophically injured.

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