Thanks to the 1920 Merchant Marine Act (the “Jones Act”), men or women employed at sea or on US inland waterways now benefit from important protections against the consequences of negligent conduct by employers, vessel owners, masters, officers or fellow crew members. This article aims to give you a basic understanding of these protections, but it cannot substitute for the advice of an experienced marine attorney on your specific case.
What Is Negligence Under The Jones Act?
The types of action, or more usually failures to act, which may constitute negligence are wide-ranging, and have been held to include (but need not be limited to) failure –
- to exercise reasonable care in the selection of masters, officers and crew
- to provide and maintain safe equipment
- to provide adequate first aid and medical care
- to take reasonable steps to keep the vessel out of unsafe water and weather
- to provide for the competent supervision and instruction of crew members
Who Can Claim Compensation?
This is not clearly defined in the Act, but it will generally include masters, officers and crew members (and, in the event of death, their spouse and dependents) who ordinarily spend a substantial proportion of their work time (typically at least 30%) on board a vessel or vessels in navigation.
Both foreign and US seamen and women may enjoy these protections of the Act if their work vessel’s owner or operator is based in the US.
What Kinds Of Loss Can Be Claimed For?
The types of compensation which have been awarded for Jones Act claims fall under a number of different headings, some of them easily defined and quantified, others much less so. A typical claim, for example, may include some or all of the following –
- medical costs
- loss of current and future earnings and other employment benefits
- expenses relating to disability or disfigurement
- compensation for pain, suffering, psychological stress and loss of enjoyment
It is also important to be aware that even if negligence cannot be demonstrated you may still be entitled to what are known as “maintenance and cure” payments from your employer. As the terms imply, “maintenance” refers to necessary day to day living expenses incurred while away from work as a result of injury; while “cure” refers to medical costs.
How Long Do I Have To File My Case?
A negligence claim must be usually be filed within three years of the date of the injury or loss. But in less straightforward cases, you may also be able to claim within three years of the time by which you should reasonably have been aware of a link between your injury or loss and the negligence complained of.
This may apply for example in cases where a medical condition develops sometime after exposure to hazardous chemicals as a consequence of employment in a particular vessel.