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Jones Act Seaman's Claims

When Congress enacted the Jones Act, part of the legislation was written so that people who work on ships would be entitled to the same legal rights as people who work for the railroad.  In most states, if you are working as a land‑based employee, and you are hurt at work, your only type of recovery is Workers' Compensation.  This is usually a relatively small amount of money that goes to pay for your medical bills and your lost wages.  However, if you are found by the Court to be a Jones Act Seaman, you are entitled to file a negligence claim against your employer and recover damages if you can prove that your employer did something that was negligent that caused your injuries or the vessel was unseaworthy and that caused your injury.  A Jones Act Seaman's damages are not limited to Workers' Compensation type damages which are only medical benefits and a percentage of your lost wages.  A Jones Act Seaman that can prove his employer was negligent in causing his injuries, can sue for past and future lost wages, for past and future medical care, for past and future pain and suffering, for mental anguish, and for loss of the capacity for the enjoyment of life due to the injury.

Sometimes it is difficult to determine if a person is a Jones Act Seaman, a longshoreman, or is a land‑based employee who is entitled to state Workers' Compensation benefits.  Although this is resolved on a case‑by‑case basis, if a person spends more than 30 % of their time on a vessel, they will probably be a Jones Act Seaman.  Most people would rather be a  Jones Act Seaman because the amount of damages that they are potentially entitled to are greater than state Workers' Compensation and greater than Longshore and Harbor Workers' Act benefits.  Several examples of Jones Act Seaman cases are:

  • A seaman is injured when a co-worker does something that is negligent that causes the seaman's injury;
  • The seaman's employer does not provide a crew that is properly trained, and that lack of training causes the seaman to be injured;
  • The employer does not provide the seaman with a safe place to work, and the seaman is injured because of a defective piece of equipment or the employer allows an unsafe procedure to be used by its crew that causes injury to the seaman;
  • The seaman is given a direct order to do something that he could not do safely on his own, or that he could not safely do at all;
  • The employer requires the seaman to do a job that he is not qualified to do, and the seaman is injured as a result;
  • The employer requires the seaman to work without providing him adequate equipment to safely conduct the work, and the seaman is injured as a result; and
  • Any other act of negligence by the employer or coworker that results in injury to the seaman.

The Jones Act Seaman lawsuit is usually filed in State Court but can be filed in Federal District Court.  Both State and Federal Courts allow for a jury trial on all of the negligence issues.


If a Court determines that a person is a  Jones Act Seaman, and if the seaman is injured or becomes ill while working on the vessel, he is entitled to what is known as maintenance and cure benefits.  Maintenance is a daily amount of money that the employer must pay to the seaman that is determined by what it costs for that seaman to live onshore while he rehabilitates from his injury or illness.  This is determined by calculating  a daily amount that it costs for food, housing, real estate taxes and homeowner's insurance, if the house is owned by the seaman, and utilities.  If the seaman rents a home, he is entitled to a daily amount for food, rent and utilities.  The seaman is entitled to maintenance and cure until he reaches maximum medical cure.  The seaman is also entitled to cure.  Cure simply means that the employer must pay for the seaman's medical care until the seaman reaches maximum medical cure.  A seaman does not have to prove that the employer was negligent in causing his injury or illness.  The seaman must only prove that he was injured while working on the vessel or while in the call of the vessel to be entitled to these benefits.  Most Jones Act Negligence and Unseaworthiness cases that are filed will also include a count for maintenance and cure if the proper amounts have not been paid by the employer.


If a person is found to be a Jones Act Seaman, and he is injured during the course of his employment, he will typically file a complaint in the State or Federal Court for the employer's Jones Act Negligence in causing his injury and for the vessel being unseaworthy in causing his injury.  The injured seaman is entitled to the same damages for the Jones Act Negligence claim as he would be for the Unseaworthiness claim.  However, the difference between Jones Act Negligence claim and the Unseaworthiness claim is that the seaman does not have to prove that the employer was negligent in causing his injury.  The seaman for the unseaworthiness claim only has to show that the vessel was unseaworthy and that the unseaworthy condition caused the seaman's injuries.  This is known as strict liability.  For instance, if a crane were to fail onboard a ship and drop cargo on to a seaman causing injury to the seaman, the seaman could easily prove that the ship was unseaworthy because the crane failed.  However, proving that the employer was negligent in allowing the crane to be operated would be more difficult and would require that the seaman prove that the employer knew or should have known about the defective condition of the crane prior to its failure.  The seaman does not have to prove both Jones Act Negligence and Unseaworthiness in order to recover damages, only one or the other.  Seamen also have the advantage over most people filing lawsuits in that seamen need only prove that the negligent act of the employer or the unseaworthiness of the vessel played any part, even in the slightest way to the seaman's injury, and the seaman can recover.

A vessel can be arrested on behalf of an injured seaman if the seaman alleges that his injury was caused by the unseaworthiness of the vessel.  Once a vessel is arrested, the employer/owner of the vessel must then file a bond with the Court in the amount of the seaman's damages before the vessel will be released by the Federal District Court.  If the vessel has insurance, the vessel will not typically be arrested because the insurance company will pay for the seaman's damages once it is determined how much the seaman's damages are.