How Does the Jones Act Affect Oil Rig Workers?

The Jones Act, part of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, provides that maritime workers on sea vessels can seek compensation for injuries acquired while at sea. This law clearly covers fishers, sailors, and cruise ship workers, but what about oil rig workers? The CDC cites that from 2003 to 2010, the oil and gas industry in the U.S. had a fatality rate seven times higher than other industries. During this 7-year period, 128 workers died on offshore oil rigs. Can injured workers or the families of employees killed at sea seek compensation from the rig's owners?

Coverage of oil rig worker under the Jones Act largely depends on the kind of rig that they work on. If the job site is a jack-up rig or another mobile type of vessel, the Jones Act will often cover offshore injuries, as the rig could be considered a sea-going vessel. To be considered a "seaman" under the Jones Act, a worker must spend more than 30 percent of his or her time in the service of a vessel on navigable waters. Almost every rig worker falls under this category, as they often work long hours, and any work on the rig, whether drilling or maintaining it, would be considered in the service of a vessel.

Jones Act Seaman vs. Longshoreman

If the rig is permanently stationary, such as being affixed to the ocean floor, the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act (LHWCA) will likely govern workers on such structures. This act is similar to the Jones Act, but it provides coverage for maritime workers who work on the land, such as docks or shipping yards, and those who are not covered by the Jones Act for one of a number of reasons. It is essential to know which Act provides you coverage before an incident occurs. Both the Jones Act and LHWCA allow seamen and dockworkers to pursue a claim against their employer if they are injured through negligence. They may also hold their employer responsible if a vessel is unseaworthy.

Oil Rig Unseaworthiness

  • Improper maintenance and upkeep of rig mechanisms
  • Inadequate safety measures, such as warning lights
  • Inadequate training
  • Lack of adequate medical supplies or staff
  • Lack of safety gear
  • Neglecting to provide enough lifeboats or other emergency equipment

For any of these situations, oil rig workers will likely be covered under the Jones Act to seek compensation. The legislation can be complicated, however, so you must consult with an experienced offshore injury attorney to determine if you qualify for compensation for your injuries, and under which Act. Contact Arnold & Itkin today.

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