What Is the Jones Act?
The Jones Act, formally known as The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, is a specific protection under admiralty law that provides for any U.S. citizen working as a seaman who suffers injury or illness due to unseaworthiness or negligence aboard a vessel operating in navigable waters.
The statute governs maritime commerce transported between U.S. ports. In addition, the Jones Act affords several key provisions specifically benefiting the maritime employee. The Jones Act was a federal statute enacted to encourage the growth of the American merchant marine. It was also created, in part, to offer relief to injured workers in the maritime industry and to ensure they receive appropriate compensation for their injuries in a maritime lawsuit, also known as a "Jones Act claim." While a Jones Act claim is filed for on the job injuries, a Jones Act settlement is often far larger than a workers' compensation claim. One reason for that is, unlike a workers’ compensation claim, Jones Act claims are entitled to a wide array of recovery types.
- Lost wages
- Loss of future earning capacity
- Pain, suffering, and disfigurement
- Mental anguish
- Medical care
- Cost of living during recovery
In comparison, claims under general workers’ compensation usually only cover basic medical care and a portion of an employee's lost earnings. This is not enough to help an injured seaman rebuild.
What Are My Rights Under the Jones Act?
The Jones Act gives qualifying seamen the ability to file a maritime lawsuit after suffering an injury or developing an illness working on or aboard a vessel. Under the Jones Act, you can seek compensation for any injury that occurs as a result of the negligence of the vessel owner, operator, or another employee. This stems from the vessel owner's duty to maintain a safe vessel. The same goes for any equipment on board the ship.
- The right to a reasonably safe work environment.
- The right to file a maritime lawsuit if injured because of negligence.
- The right to maintenance and cure compensation related to injury or illness.
- The right to additional compensation if the vessel or crew is deemed unseaworthy.
- The right to additional punitive damages if refused payment of maintenance and cure.
Can I File a Jones Act Claim Against the Ship Owner?
Federal law recognizes the inherent danger of working at sea and the risk of on-the-job injuries in the maritime industry. To keep a workforce of trained seamen, the law gives maritime workers valuable legal rights, including the right to sue a ship owner for negligence or the unseaworthiness of the vessel in a Jones Act claim. This act is more specific than common maritime law. Even if you are outside of the U.S., if you work for an American company on an American vessel, you could be entitled to a Jones Act claim as long as you carry the title of "seaman."
What Is a Jones Act Claim & Who Can File?
The Jones Act is a statute from 1920 that was created to encourage growth of the shipping industry. It regulates shipping between American ports, allowing only American ships to deliver goods to ports in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere. Most importantly for seamen, it provides offshore workers with statutory rights that allow them to file claims against employers and vessel owners.
In order to be eligible under the Jones Act, you need to qualify as a "seaman."
Generally speaking, this means you must have been assigned to a vessel or fleet in operation on a navigable waterway, and your duties must have contributed to the vessel's function. A seaman must spend at least 30% of his or her working service on the vessel. For instance, deckhands, engineers, cooks, and housekeeping stewards can all qualify as seamen under the law, as can many workers on offshore oil rigs.
If you are an offshore worker and were hurt on a vessel, and it is believed that negligence on behalf of the vessel's owner contributed in any way to your accident, then you are justified in filing a Jones Act claim. If you can obtain a fair settlement in a Jones Act case, this means that your lost wages will likely be compensated for, as well as things such as pain, medical care, and cost of living during the time of recovery.
Our Jones Act Wrongful Death Lawyers Fight for Grieving Families
Sometimes, workers don't return home after an offshore accident. When this happens, families turn to our Houston Jones Act law firm for help. While we can't change what happened, we can demand answers from those who failed to prevent deadly accidents. This can happen when vessel owners demand that a ship go to sea in treacherous conditions, when offshore companies fail to evacuate crews from their rigs amid hurricane warnings, when inspections are skipped, and when aging equipment is not replaced or repaired.
Those who have lost loved ones may be entitled to compensation under the Jones Act for funeral expenses, loss of consortium, loss of companionship and support, lost earnings, medical debt, and pain and suffering. This can go a long way in helping a family face a more stable future, plus it can bring peace of mind in seeing justice served.
Families have the right to bring a wrongful death action under the Jones Act if their loved one died as a result of a work-related injury or illness. Learn more about your rights by contacting our firm.
The Jones Act Claims Process
Ultimately, the Jones Act was created to make it easier for seamen to get back on their feet and to encourage vessel owners and operators to maintain a safe work environment. If any negligent or hazardous condition could result in a significant payout, it makes companies far more likely to keep workers safe. The Jones Act claims process still requires you to have an advocate, however. A lawyer who has represented injured seamen before is more likely to understand how to handle a maritime lawsuit than one with no experience with Jones Act claims.
- You'll report the injury to your supervisor or captain.
- The company will ask for an accident report.
- You'll get medical treatment.
- You'll hire a lawyer for injured seamen.
- You'll settle the case or file suit.
There are a few things to keep in mind. One, your employer cannot withhold medical care from you for any reason. We've represented cases where employers forced workers to fill out accident reports and sign waivers prior to seeing a doctor. This is unethical and a violation of your rights. If you're not comfortable filling out a form before seeing a doctor, then say so (and make it clear). Two, your employer might ask who was at fault. Don’t allow the company to pressure you to admit blame when you did nothing wrong. This is a tactic that many offshore companies use to manufacturer evidence against you and end your case before its even begun. Finally, you have the right to choose your own doctor and see someone you are fully comfortable with.
How Long Do Jones Act Lawsuits Take?
Unfortunately, there's no one-size-fits-all answer. However, we can explain the different factors that would lengthen or shorten your Jones Act lawsuit. The first thing is the investigation of your case. Investigating what happened, who caused it to happen, and how it affected your health all takes a great deal of time. Building a case out of the evidence also takes time, as does hiring expert witnesses to help with the presentation of the facts.
The other major effect is how willing the other party is to settle. In many cases, our Jones Act law firm will build such a strong case that the defendant will settle quickly. In other cases, our attorneys will have to take a case all the way to trial before a defendant will do what's right. There's a whole spectrum of potential outcomes between those two scenarios, but if your lawyer tells you that your case may take a while, don't worry: that's not a bad sign.
In certain jurisdictions, Jones Act seamen may be entitled to preferential treatment and/or speedy trials. If you have further questions, we encourage you to contact our attorneys today.
Differences Between Jones Act Cases & Personal Injury Cases
- Jones Act cases are filed against your employer
- Jones Act cases involve maritime insurance companies
- Jones Act cases tend to have a higher average value
- Jones Act cases require lawyers who are experienced with maritime law
- Jones Act cases often involve more life-changing injuries on average
Why You Don't Want to Settle Quickly
When it comes to offshore injuries, it isn’t always clear at the beginning just how injured you really are. This is especially true if you are seeing a doctor your employer sent you to see. These doctors often have an incentive to minimize the severity of your injuries and return you back to work before you are truly healthy enough to do so. We can help you get treatment from doctors that have your health as their top priority—not the company’s bottom line. If you settle a case too quickly, you can risk not taking the full extent of your injuries into account.
If you call us, a lawyer will be able to explain all of this in detail. The main idea is this: Jones Act claims require experience and strategy to maximize your settlement or verdict. Settling your case as quickly as possible may leave you without vital funds you'll need for the rest of your life. While you may be anxious to move on with your life, a good lawyer will recognize that having patience will pay off in the end.
Jones Act Claims Are Fault-Based
Another reason for the higher payouts is that a Jones Act claim is fault-based, but has a lighter burden of proof than a civil lawsuit on land. For example, if a falling pipe strikes a construction worker, they would automatically be entitled to benefits under workers’ compensation. However, if their losses demand more than benefits allow, they could seek additional benefits from additional parties at fault—or potentially against their employer if criminal negligence was the cause of the accident. Even then, the likelihood of successfully suing an employer when you have workers’ comp is low.
If a rig worker suffered the same accident, they would need to prove their employer is at fault to receive benefits. However, they’re entitled to receive far more compensation than in a workers’ compensation claim—and they would only need to prove that the employer was in any way responsible for the accident. Theoretically, an employer even 1% responsible for a seaman’s injuries would be liable for providing compensation.
Claims of Unseaworthiness Under the Jones Act
The Jones Act includes several clauses that protect offshore workers from the types of negligence that can cause a serious accident. For example, a claim of unseaworthiness can be filed when a ship owner has failed to fulfill their legal obligation to provide a seaworthy vessel. A vessel owner is not allowed to shift this obligation to anyone else, and the vessel must be deemed reasonably safe for the type of endeavor is it embarking on.
- An inadequate number of crewmembers or workers
- Lack of appropriate safety guards or rails
- Lack of fire extinguishers and mandatory fire suppression equipment
- Untrained or incompetent crew or captain
- Lack of sufficient food or unsafe living areas
- Improperly stowed cargo
- Lack of proper elevators or hoists
These factors and others may help support your claim of unseaworthiness against a vessel owner. Maritime employers are never involved in this type of claim, except for cases in which they happen to also be the vessel owner. If you are considering filing this type of claim, it is important to know that claims of unseaworthiness do not cover a seaman's own negligence or irresponsibility.
If you believe that an unseaworthy ship caused your offshore accident, it is wise to consult an attorney on how to proceed. Claims of unseaworthiness usually require a detailed analysis of the conditions aboard a vessel, and you need legal protection during every step of the claims process. Arnold & Itkin can work to alleviate your suffering by pursuing the best results.
How to Prepare Yourself for a Jones Act Case
Use your recovery time as wisely as possible. Don't rush into anything, and don't sign anything until your injuries have been fully understood. It's not always clear how long you'll be injured, and signing away your rights before knowing if you'll be injured for the rest of your life could be disastrous.
Focus on seeing as many doctors as necessary to understand what you're facing. Request specialists to examine your injuries to understand the ramifications of your accident.
If you're not sure who to call next, speak with our Jones Act claims lawyers in a free consultation. We can put you in touch with leading medical specialists for your injuries and discuss how you can provide for yourself while we investigate your accident. We can also discuss how much your Jones Act case might be worth, and how our firm can help you recover your medical costs, lost earnings, and more.
Longshore & Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act vs. the Jones Act
There are specific sets of laws that govern maritime workers; however, it can be confusing to determine who is covered by what. The Jones Act and the Longshore & Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act operate differently. It is important to understand where to turn if a worker is injured while working at sea. The LHWCA provides workers’ compensation to maritime employees who are not seamen (not part of a crew on a vessel). The LHWCA largely applies to harbor workers, shipyard workers, and any worker who is employed near the water but not on a vessel.
The Jones Act
The Jones Act specifically covers mariners who work out on the open sea. Many nuances can influence how a worker can seek compensation, such as whether they consistently work on the same vessel and how much time they spend offshore, but generally, workers who serve on operating vessels, such as fishermen will be able to seek compensation for injuries through the Jones Act. If a mariner is lost at sea or dies during an accident offshore, their family members will be able to pursue a claim under the Jones Act.
Longshore & Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA)
The LWHCA covers workers harmed while performing tasks pertaining to navigable waters in the U.S. Ports and docks pose a number of dangers for dockworkers, from crane accidents to electrocutions. While workers perform tasks such as loading and unloading vessels, transporting goods, or operating drawbridges, they can be injured on the job. The LWHCA provides them the opportunity to seek out compensation for their injuries. However, injured workers must seek out this payment from the U.S. Department of Labor through filing a certain claim.
Why Should I Hire a Texas Jones Act Lawyer? Won't My Employer Help?
If you have been hurt while working offshore, then it may seem as if you are without hope. This could not be further from the truth. There are laws put into place with the specific purpose of protecting your rights during a time such as this. All you need is an experienced Jones Act attorney. This is why we encourage you to contact us as soon as possible. Over the years, we have established ourselves as leaders in maritime law and demonstrated the ability to protect the rights of the injured. We know what is on the line with complex litigation and have proven that we can be counted on. So why choose us to take on your case? There are a lot of things that set us apart, including our preferential location in Houston, TX.
- We move cases faster. If you have been seriously injured and you're looking to fight for compensation, the last thing that you want is to deal with a delayed case. You want help that is going to expedite the case, not slow it down. Due to our resources and our location, our Houston Jones Act law firm is known for moving cases fast. We have the same interests as you: to get justice as fast as possible.
- We have preferential trial settings. We have preferential trial settings. By law, Texas courts have to give Jones Act seamen a preferential trial setting. That means that your case will move to the top of the list. This also means that we can get you justice sooner in Texas than we could in other states where the laws are not as favorable to workers.
- We get better values. Your main concern when you're knee-deep in a maritime claim is to get the maximum compensation that you deserve. Our firm has been known to be able to help maximize recovery for our clients. We have been involved in several multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements. This experience and track record isn't a promise or a guarantee since every case is unique, but it is indicative of our ability to help our clients and should be taken as such. If you want to learn more about our verdicts and settlements, please click here.
- We have the experience to take on big companies. If you're filing a claim against a large company, you need to know that your attorney has the experience to handle the high-stakes situation. At Arnold & Itkin, we have taken on large corporations before and been successful. We won't be daunted, and we won't be overwhelmed. We know the best way to do it and will fight for you. Better yet? We will be fighting them on our turf and in our backyard. The experience that small town lawyers simply are not going to be able to provide to you.
Your future is simply too important to leave into the hands of a lawyer who is unfamiliar with maritime law or an attorney handling their first big case. You want someone who knows the ropes and knows the system, someone with an intimate knowledge of what you are facing. This is exactly what you will find should you choose to work with our lawyer. We have recovered billions on behalf of our clients. We have the experience, qualifications, and desire to help you. So what are you waiting for? We work on a contingency fee basis, so you have nothing to lose.
Houston Jones Act Law Firm Protecting Injured Seamen Nationwide
If you have recently been injured while offshore, it is important that you have a lawyer on your side who is well-versed in the Jones Act and other pieces of maritime law. At Arnold & Itkin, we recognize the importance of these types of claims. We are prepared to go the distance in our efforts to help our clients obtain the best outcome possible—fighting for the just outcome that they deserve.
Our team has secured billions of dollars for injured clients all along our shores, including more than two dozen crew members of the Deepwater Horizon. We are the leading Jones Act lawyers in the nation, fighting on behalf of oil rig employees, ship crew members, and other at-sea maritime workers. Our legal insight and professional opinion on the maritime industry have been featured on networks like CNN, the Houston Chronicle, ABC News, and more. We know how to hold oil corporations and shipping companies accountable.
Call (888) 493-1629 to speak with our top-rated team. We’re here to help answer your questions and address your concerns.