The Jones Act

Last updated on: November 8, 2014

What is the Jones Act?

Enacted in 1920, the Jones Act entitles a seaman to sue an employer for negligence when he or she suffers a personal injury during the course of employment.  The Jones Act specifically incorporates the rights and remedies extended to railroad workers by the federal Employees Liability Act (“FELA”), and therefore provides for one of the few instances in which an employee can sue an employer for negligence, and not be limited by restrictive workers compensation laws. In most instances, a claim under the Jones Act is brought directly by the seaman against the employer.  However, if the seaman has died, an action may be brought on behalf of his or her beneficiaries by a personal representative of the seaman’s estate.

When can a Jones Act case be filed?

The purpose of the Jones Act is to provide seamen with an avenue through which they may collect remedies for the personal injuries they suffered while at work.  In order to bring a claim under the Jones Act, a person must qualify as a “seaman”, which, as a rule of thumb, is usually defined as a worker who spends at least 30 percent of his or her time working on a vessel in navigation. The term “vessel” is broadly construed, and includes a large swath of devices used to travel across water.  The injury itself, however, does not necessarily have to occur on the water so long as the other requisites of the Act are met. 

Who can make a claim under the Jones Act?

In order to prove a claim under the Jones Act, a seaman must show that an employer’s negligence was a cause, in whole or in part, of the seaman’s injury. Proof of negligence is essential to recovery and may be shown through evidence demonstrating dangerous conditions on the ship, failure to use reasonable care in providing the seamen a safe workplace, failure to inspect the vessel for hazards, or a variety of other employer breaches.  However, just because an employer was negligent does not necessarily mean that they will be held liable under the Jones Act.  The seaman must also show that the employer’s negligence was a direct cause of at least part of his or her injury. A successful suit is likely to entitle a seaman to recover a wide variety of damages attributable to the accident.  These include, but are not limited to, medical expenses not paid for by the employer, pain and suffering, impairment of future earning capacity, and loss wages.

How long does someone have to make a claim under the Jones Act?

Claims under the Jones Act, however, must be filed within 3 years from the date of the seaman’s injury.  If the claim is not filed within 3 years (2 years if the injury occurred aboard a government vessel), then the seaman will be forever barred from recovering damages.

In order to prevail under a Jones Act claim, it is paramount that seamen hire a competent attorney who understands this complicated statute in and out.  Zinda Law Group provide their clients with an experienced team, well versed in the intricacies of maritime law.  With our attorneys by their side, seamen can rest assured that they are represented by competent counsel, capable of communicating their rights and demanding justice.