By:   Charles R. Lipcon

jones-act-lawyerEach Jones Act lawyer at Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, P.A has extensive experience defending the rights of seamen who are hurt or become ill as a result of their job duties.

What Is the Jones Act?

Maritime law, or admiralty law, aims to regulate and govern activities that occur at sea. If you engage in any activities at sea, maritime law is probably working in some way to keep you safe and secure your rights if something goes wrong.

Different acts and treaties that are a part of maritime law provide varying types of protection to those who are at sea. One of the most important maritime laws is the Jones Act, which ensures that workers are provided for if something happens to them while they are performing their jobs.

The Jones Act is a special federal law passed in part to protect workers on vessels in navigation and it is codified in Title 46 of the United States Code. It provides a cause of action in negligence for any “seaman” injured in the course of his or her employment.

Under general maritime law prior to the enactment of the Jones Act, seamen were allowed what was called “maintenance and cure” from their employers for injuries sustained in service of the vessel. They could collect damages from the owner of the vessel for “injuries received by seamen in consequence of the “unseaworthiness of the ship,” but they were prohibited from recovering based on negligence of the ship’s master or crew.

The Jones Act differs from workers’ compensation, though, because Jones Act employees can sue their employers for damages beyond maintenance and cure. An employee who can prove negligence can be compensated for non-financial losses caused by the injury. Negligence is provable in different ways, including demonstrating that an employer allowed a vessel to become unseaworthy. However, workers’ compensation coverage might be under state law or under federal law if the worker is considered a longshoreman or harbor worker. What is important to note here is that, when it comes to workers’ compensation claims, fault or negligence is typically not at issue.

The United States Congress enacted the Jones Act in 1920 to remove the bar to seamen trying to recover for negligence. It incorporates the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA) which was a federal law passed to protect railroad workers.

Under the Act, a maritime worker can recover money if he or she was injured by reason of the employer’s failure to provide a safe place to work. It is important to note that the accident does not necessarily need to occur on a vessel. For example, if the employer puts the seafarer into a hotel and an accident occurs because of the fault of the hotel, the injury may be compensable under the Jones Act.

Are You a Seaman?

The Jones Act does not define the term “seaman” and leaves it to the courts to determine which maritime workers are entitled to admiralty law’s special protections. The Jones Act does not apply to volunteer or unpaid crew members but it can apply to United States seafarers as well as foreign seafarers. When the base of operations of the employer or shipping company is in the United States, foreign seafarers can claim the protection of the Jones Act in many cases. Plaintiffs retaining a Jones Act law firm should consult with the firm’s Jones Act lawyers to determine the applicability of the law to their case.

Injuries encompassed by the Act which are not work-related may arise by virtue of a seaman living aboard a vessel or coming and leaving the vessel. If the ship has a policy of allowing seamen to return to the ship in an inebriated condition, the owner may be liable for any injury the seaman incurs in doing so, even if the seaman was drunk at the time.

Negligence on the part of the owner or master of a vessel has been determined to encompass:

  • Failure to maintain safe equipment and appliances
  • Care in selecting competent masters and crew
  • Assaults committed by fellow seamen in the line of work
  • Negligent orders
  • Failure to avoid violent weather
  • Failure to provide adequate medical treatment
  • Negligent supervision or instruction, resulting in injury
  • Failure to search and rescue

Damages under the Jones Act include:

  • Medical expenses
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of wages
  • Loss of support or consortium to the seamen’s family members
  • Loss of benefits
  • Funeral expenses
  • Mental anguish
  • Disability
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Disfigurement

In wrongful death claims damages for pain and suffering that occurred prior to death are also able to be recovered (as long as they are filed within the statute of limitations).

Can Overworked Seamen Recover Under the Jones Act?

A recent Federal Court of Appeals case, Skye v. Maersk Line Limited Corporation, examined whether or not a seaman who had hurt himself due to working long hours and erratic sleep patterns could recover under the Jones Act.

William Skye worked as a chief mate from 2000 to 2008 on the Sealand Pride, which was operated by Maersk. Skye routinely worked between 90 and 105 hours weekly, for 70 to 84 days at a time. Because his job required constant overtime, Skye’s health was affected due to a lack of sleep, fatigue, and stress. Because of his health concerns, Skye went to the doctor and was ultimately diagnosed with benign arrhythmia. He was advised at that time to get more rest and change his diet.

Skye was subsequently moved to a management position, which called for even more physically demanding work. Years later, he began to experience a burning sensation in his heart, headaches, and a sore back. Skye returned to the doctor who then diagnosed him with left ventricular hypertrophy, which is a thickening of the heart wall.

The jury ultimately decided to give Skye a little over $590,000 in damages. Maersk appealed on the basis that the award was not permitted under the Jones Act. The Court of Appeals agreed with Maersk, noting that in order for the seaman to recover, he must have been threatened with “physical impact.” The Court found that work-related stress was not the same as being injured as a result of “physical peril,” and further noted that even if Skye experienced physical effects that stemmed from his work environment, that did not qualify for recovery under the Jones Act.

The case points out the fact that not all work-related injuries qualify for recovery under the Jones Act. 

Can an Individual Receive Punitive Damages in a Maritime Injury Case?

If the case at issue is a maintenance and cure case, injured seamen are now able to seek punitive damages if the seaman’s employer wantonly, willfully and/or recklessly failed to pay the appropriate amount of maintenance and cure, failed to pay maintenance and cure altogether, delayed payment with respect to maintenance and cure, or terminated a seaman’s maintenance and cure with no good cause. Notably, this legal principle was recently reaffirmed in a United States Supreme Court case called Atlantic Sounding v. Townsend, and our firm filed an amicus curiae brief in that case.

Jones Act Statute of Limitations

A statute of limitations is a time frame in which an injured party must formally file their injury claim. If the deadline for filing a personal injury claim passes, then the claim is forever barred. The Jones Act Statute of Limitations requires that an action for damages be brought within three years of the injury or three years when a reasonable seaman could have been aware of the wrongful conduct causing damages. Contact the Jones Act lawyers at Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, P.A. for a free consultation to review the facts of your case.

Filing a Claim with a Jones Act Attorney

Developed to protect workers on navigable waters, the Jones Act is a complex piece of law that requires seamen to have a safe place to work. If you are injured on the job, you should report the injury and contact a Jones Act attorney who can assist you with the formal filing of a claim.

Outlined below is the typical process for filing a Jones Act claim, although the process may vary from case to case. For specific information regarding your unique circumstances, you should consult with a lawyer at Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, P.A.

  1. Report the injury – You should report an injury to your employer at the earliest opportunity. Don’t delay, act immediately because your employer may want to take action to identify witnesses and investigate the scene.
  2. File a formal statement – After you have notified your company of the injuries you sustained, you will likely be asked to provide a detailed account of the moments leading up to your accident, generally referred to as an accident report. A Jones Act attorney will suggest that you refrain from completing such forms or providing statements prior to speaking to them. Often these documents, or taped statements, are used as evidence that your employer was not at fault for the accident, which can affect the strength of your case. If you are not feeling your best, simply decline to give a statement and contact an attorney. He or she will be able to provide guidance about completing an accident report.
  3. Seek medical treatment – After an accident, the chief concern is your health and well-being. See a doctor immediately and have him or her provide a detailed report of your injuries, as well as any treatments that you receive.
  4. Seek legal assistance – The Jones Act is complex and has many provisions and requirements. It is usually in the best interest of the injured party to hire a lawyer who is familiar with these types of claims and able to make strategic moves that ensure that you are fully and fairly compensated for your losses and injuries under the law.

Take legal action – Once you and your lawyer have decided to move forward with legal action, you will decide to either file suit, or settle the case. Every case is unique with different circumstances, so consult with your lawyer before making any major decisions regarding the final outcome of your claim. It is wise to retain an attorney as soon as possible because you must act within the statute of limitations. Once the statute of limitations has passed, you are no longer eligible to make a monetary recovery in most instances.

Frequently Asked Questions About Jones Act Claims

Focused primarily on maritime law, Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman has helped thousands of injured seamen around the world successfully file claims for compensation. Below are some of the questions our attorneys are asked most frequently regarding the Jones Act.

Who is a seaman?

What is “maintenance and cure”?

How do I file a claim?

What is required of my employer under the act?

What if the injury was my fault?

The attorneys at Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, P.A are happy to speak with you about your potential case.  Our firm has recovered more than $300 million dollars for seamen and other clients*. The firm also provides many resources on the web, including our free cruise ship lawyer app for your phone. Feel free to contact us online, or by telephone, with any additional questions.

Contact a Jones Act Lawyer to Learn More

The Jones Act is one of the most protective laws in the United States and can hold the employer liable for even the slightest negligence. If you are in need of help, contact our Jones Act lawyers at Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, P.A. Founded by Charles R. Lipcon who began practicing law in 1971, our firm handles all types of maritime cases throughout the Florida coast, the United States and internationally. We offer a free initial consultation as an opportunity to discuss your case and learn about the legal options available to you. Call us today at 877-233-1238 or contact us through our website.