Negligence Claims Under The Jones Act

It is no secret that working aboard vessels at sea involves the risk of serious physical injury and even death. Traditional maritime law did not allow sailors and their families to pursue negligence claims against employers in the event of injury. Claims for injured seaman were historically limited to medical expenses, nursing services, and wages until the end of the vessel's voyage. To expand the remedies traditionally available under maritime law to injured seaman, Congress passed the Jones Act. Among other things, the Jones Act provides seamen with a cause of action against negligent employers for injuries suffered on the job.

In part to address this lack of uniformity and in part to expand the remedies traditionally available under maritime law to workers injured at sea, Congress passed the Jones Act. Among other things, the Jones Act provides seamen with a cause of action against negligent employers for injuries suffered on the job.

Who is Covered by the Jones Act?

The Jones Act only protects those employees who may be classified as "seamen." Because the Act does not define this term, courts have applied the definition provided by maritime law, under which a seaman is any person whose labor aboard ship contributes to a vessel's objectives. Whether someone is a seaman generally requires an examination of the overall circumstances of his or her employment. For these purposes, courts typically focus on the duration of a worker's connection to a vessel and whether his or her work contributes to its function or the accomplishment of its mission.

The Jones Act does not discriminate amongst crew members. Every employee, regardless of rank or position, is protected, so long as he or she may be classified as a seaman.

Under the Jones Act, the personal representative of a deceased seaman may bring a wrongful death claim against a negligent employer. In these cases, the seaman's personal representative brings the claim for the benefit of the seaman's spouse and children, parents or dependent next of kin.

What Injuries are Covered by the Jones Act?

The Jones Act provides a right of recovery for any illness or injury that a seaman suffers as a result of employer negligence, so long as it occurs in the course of the seaman's employment. Because a seaman is unable to leave a vessel while it is at sea, almost all injuries suffered while aboard a ship are considered to be in the course of his or her employment, even if off duty.

The Jones Act also allows recovery for injuries that occur ashore, provided they occur in the course of employment. An employee's status as a seaman is determined by his or her relationship to the vessel, not by the employee's location. The Jones Act does not, however, cover injuries suffered by seamen who are not acting within the scope of their employment, or injuries that occur as a result of misconduct, such as gross intoxication.

What Must a Plaintiff Prove?

In order to bring a successful claim under the Jones Act, a plaintiff must prove that employer negligence caused his or her injury. Therefore, a plaintiff must prove that the employer owed the seaman a duty of care; that the employer breached that duty of care; that the employer's breach of this duty was the cause of the seaman's injuries; and that the seaman suffered actual injuries.

Duty Owed by Employer

In Jones Act cases, employers are required to use reasonable care to prevent injuries to seamen on their vessels. Courts have generally held that "reasonable care" in these circumstances means that an employer must take all precautions that a person of average intelligence would suggest and must avoid all reasonably foreseeable causes of injury. The unique circumstances of each case dictate the degree of caution and prudence required. The reality is that most accidents aboard ship are preventable if proper safety precautions are followed.

Causation

Even if the employer owes the seaman a duty of care, a plaintiff must still demonstrate that the seaman's injuries arose as a result of the employer's breach of that duty. In Jones Act claims, a plaintiff will succeed if he or she can prove that the employer's negligence played any part, even the slightest, in producing the injury or death for which damages are sought.

Contact an Experienced Attorney

If you are injured while working at sea, you may have a claim under the Jones Act, or other claims under traditional maritime law. Because this area of the law is complex, it is important to contact an experienced maritime attorney to protect your rights.

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