In 1920, the United States Congress passed a statute called the Merchant Marine Act of 1920. Most people today refer to the law as the “Jones Act.” The Jones Act was intended to ensure that the United States had a modern and effective merchant marine fleet and to give seamen the right to sue their employers for injuries suffered while at sea.
The powers of the secretary of transportation
The Jones Act instructs the secretary of transportation to survey the United States merchant marine fleet to ensure that it is “adequate and well-balanced.” Vessels in the U.S. merchant marine fleet must be designed “to afford the best and most complete protection of passengers and crew against fire and all marine perils.” The secretary is also instructed to ensure that the merchant marine fleet is owned and operated by U.S. citizens.
The right of an injured seaman to sue for damages
Before passing the Jones Act, injured seamen had almost no remedy to recover damages from anyone at fault for the injury. The Jones Act created such a right by extending the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA) to seamen.
The Jones Act gives injured seamen the right to bring a personal injury action against their employer and to have the matter decided by a jury.
The case may be filed in either state or federal court, and the employer may not remove a state case to federal court. This provision is especially helpful to seamen because they are not allowed to receive any type of workers’ compensation benefits under either state or federal law.
Injured seamen should understand the most important difference between the Jones Act and state-operated workers’ compensation programs. Under the latter, a claimant must prove only that they suffered an in the course of their employment. Under the Jones Act, the injured party must prove that the injury resulted from the negligence of the employer or a third party.
Consulting an attorney who is knowledgeable about the Jones Act
Filing a claim under the Jones Act can be confusing, but it may be the only remedy available to an injured seaman. In such cases, the injured party may benefit from consulting an attorney who is knowledgeable about Jones Act claims.