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Jones Act

Definition - What does Jones Act mean?

The Jones Act, which was part of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, increased the ability of sailors to seek compensation for their injuries if they were injured at sea. Compensation for injuries at sea can now be paid by the crew, captain, or ship owner. Like other workers' compensation claims, under the Jones Act a ship owner may be held liable if seamen are injured due to the unsafe working conditions aboard a sea vessel. Compensation for injuries may also be paid regardless of how or why the sailor was injured. Compensation can include living expenses and medical benefits.

Who qualifies as a seaman?

The Jones Act does not specifically define who is considered a seaman, but the courts generally have defined a seaman as "any person assigned to a vessel or fleet that operates navigable waters." Consider, however, to receive compensation under the Jones Act the seaman must be performing activities which further the mission of the vessel, regardless of the importance of the work.

The courts have also upheld that the amount of time the injured seaman has spent on the vessel is important for receiving compensation. For instance, one court held that at least 30% of the employee's time had to be aboard the vessel to qualify for compensation under the Jones Act.

Compensation under the Jones Act vs. Workers Compensation

Workers injured on land in the course of employment are generally barred from filing an injury claim against their employer. Seaman who qualify under the Jones Act, however, may be able to file an injury claim against their employer and receive certain types of compensation.

Seaman will have to prove negligence, which means they must prove their employer or their coworkers acted negligently or took unreasonable risks and these risks led to the seaman's injury. Compensation allowed under the Jones Act includes economic (medical expenses and lost wages) and non-economic (pain and suffering) payments.

Maintenance and Cure

Seaman may also have the right to maintenance and cure, which is a benefit provided to seamen who become injured or ill while in the service of a vessel. Unlike filing an injury claim, however, maintenance and cure benefits are no-fault benefits, and are similar to workers' compensation. Under the maintenance and cure claim, the seaman does not have to prove his employer was negligent, only that he became ill in the course of his employment.

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