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What Is A Jones Act Lawsuit
A Jones Act lawsuit refers to a type of legal claim or action filed by seamen against their employers for personal injury damages suffered while on the job.
Particularly, Section 27 of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 allows merchant marines to sue their employers for maintenance should they get injured in the performance of their work duties.
The Jones Act was passed by Congress to provide maritime workers legal protection in case they suffer injuries on the job.
Generally, an employee that is injured on the job is entitled to workers’ compensation.
However, seamen are not covered under any state or federal workers’ compensation programs and so the only way they could actually get compensation for damages suffered on the job is by filing a Jones Act claim or seeking compensation under general maritime laws.
Jones Act Lawsuit Key Elements
To better understand Jones Act lawsuits, it’s important that we look at various aspects of Jones Act cases that are important to be aware of.
Who is a Jones Act seaman?
If you want to file a claim as a seaman under the Jones Act, you must first ensure that you qualify as a seaman.
A seaman is a person who carries out most of his or her work on a vessel, ship, or boat and has duties that contribute to the function of the vessel.
For a person to be recognized and qualified as a “seaman”, he or she must either work full time on a vessel or if the work is being done part-time, at least 30% of the time on board a vessel.
In some cases, a person can easily be qualified as a “seaman” and could seek Jones Act coverage.
However, in other cases, it may not be as easy to qualify someone as a seaman entitling him or her to file a claim under Jones Act for compensation.
Temporary workers, outside contractors, external agents, or people working on the boat but not contributing to the functioning of the boat will not qualify as seamen under the Jones Act statute.
If you believe that you qualify for a Jones Act workers’ compensation or want to assess your options in filing a Jones Act lawsuit, you should consult with a Jones Act attorney or maritime lawyer to provide you with legal advice and support.
To qualify to file under Jones Act, the plaintiff must be a seaman working on a type of craft that is considered a “vessel” under the Jones Act.
Typically, the following types of water-borne crafts qualify as vessels as per Jones Act:
- Crafts going out to sea
- Crafts going from one port to another
- Crafts that are docked in port but are operable on navigable waters
On the other hand, a vessel that is permanently attached to the seafloor or a vessel that does not navigate will not be considered a vessel.
Jones Act Claims
What can a seaman get by filing a Jones Act claim?
If you do qualify as a seaman under Jones Act, it’s important to know what you may be entitled to by filing a claim under the Jones Act.
By filing a claim under Jones Act, a seaman is able to get financial compensation for having suffered injuries onboard a vessel due to the negligence of his or her employer.
In essence, Jones Act injuries qualify an employee of the sea to recover damages caused by the employer’s negligence or failure to respect its duties to offer a safe and secure work environment to its employees.
Generally, to win a Jones Act case, the employee must prove that the owner of the vessel was negligent or the captain or crew’s negligent actions and conduct led to the seaman’s injury.
Jones Act Negligence
For a seaman to win a lawsuit filed under the Jones Act and get compensation for a Jones Act injury, it’s important that he or she proves the “negligence” of the employer, captain, or crew.
An employer is required to provide its employees (seamen and women) a safe work environment and take reasonable care to maintain the vessel in a safe condition.
If the employer, the captain, or any crew member fails in its obligations to maintain the ship or vessel in a safe working condition and generally provide a safe work environment, the employee can be held accountable for compensation for damages suffered by a seaman.
For example, under Jones Act, an employer should ensure that the vessel is maintained regularly, the equipment on the vessel is safe and used safely, the seaman and crew are regularly trained and understand the safety rules, and so on.
Even if the seaman was responsible for the injury, he or she can still get compensation but the financial compensation will be adjusted to reflect the seaman’s contribution to the injury.
In legal jargon, the low burden of proof under the Jones Act is called the “featherweight casualty rule”.
Burden of Proof
The reason why the Jones Act is an attractive piece of legislation for filing a claim by a seaman is that it requires a much lower burden of proof on the part of the plaintiff to prove negligence.
Generally, a standard negligence lawsuit requires that the plaintiff prove the following:
- The defendant had a duty of care to the plaintiff (duty of care)
- The defendant breached its duty (breach of duty)
- The breach resulted in injuries to the plaintiff (causation)
- The plaintiff suffered damages (damages)
The causation is an important piece of the equation to win a standard negligence claim.
The plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s breach of duty of care caused the injuries or there was a proximate cause where the breach played a significant part in the injuries caused.
However, under the Jones Act, to prove negligence, the plaintiff must prove the following:
- The defendant had a duty of care
- The defendant breached its duty
- The breach played “any part” (big or small) in the damages suffered by the plaintiff
- The plaintiff suffered damages
In other words, the plaintiff is only required that there was a connection of some kind (even if a small one) between the negligence and the plaintiff’s injuries.
Jones Act Damages
When a seaman provides sufficient evidence that the injuries suffered resulted from the employer’s negligence or that of the captain or crew members, the law allows for the seaman to recover damages.
Getting damages means that the seaman will be entitled to get financial compensation for the injuries suffered similarly to what a plaintiff would get in a standard personal injury lawsuit.
Jones Act damages can include:
- Lost earnings
- Lost earning capacity
- Past medical expenses
- Future medical expenses
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Loss of enjoyment of life
Jones Act Lawsuit Statute of Limitations
It’s important to consult with a Jones Act attorney to get an accurate opinion on how long you have to file a Jones Act lawsuit so you do not get time-barred due to the application of the statute of limitations.
Generally speaking, to file a lawsuit under the Jones Act, the plaintiff is legally given three years from the moment of the injury to take action.
If a claim is filed within three years, then it will be heard by the courts on its merits.
On the other hand, if the Jones Act claim is filed after the three-year timeline from the injury, it may get dismissed due to the expiration of the legal delay (even if the case is well-founded on its merits).
Jones Act Lawsuit Settlements
When a seaman is injured on a vessel, he or she has the right to sue to get compensated for damages (economic damages and non-economic damages).
In many cases, employers recognize that the Jones Act statute is very employee-friendly and there may be a chance that they lose the case.
To avoid having negative judgments pile up against them or to avoid paying unnecessary legal costs, in many cases the Jones Act lawsuits are settled out of court.
Of course, there are cases where a settlement is not achieved and the matter goes to trial to be heard on its merits.
If you have a possible claim under Jones Act, it’s important that you consult with an attorney specialized in Jones Act lawsuits to provide you with legal advice and representation.
Having a qualified attorney will surely help you increase the odds of achieving a settlement where you get fair compensation for damages suffered.
Jones Act Lawsuit Funding
It’s one thing to be entitled to a claim under Jones Act and it’s another thing to have the means to sue for compensation.
Unfortunately, there are instances when a seaman with a perfectly valid claim would not have the financial means to recover from a work-related accident and spend money on a Jones Act legal action.
That’s when you may want to consider the option of funding your Jones Act lawsuit.
There are companies out there that will provide you with the necessary funds to pay your legal fees and costs to fund your lawsuit against your employer.
Generally, if you win the case, they will take a percentage of the award.
However, if you lose, you will not have any obligation to pay them back.
This is a win-win scenario in the event you have a valid claim that you cannot pursue due to your limited financial means.
There are other types of companies that offer upfront funding so you can pay for your living expenses and costs as you wait for the outcome of your lawsuit but you’ll need to reimburse the capital with interest.
If you cannot find the right funding company to provide you with the funds you need to pursue your lawsuit, you may also try to find Jones Act law firms and lawyers who may take your case on a contingency basis.
This means that the lawyer will not charge you any fees and will eventually take a portion of the settlement or court award.
Jones Act Claim Takeaways
So there you have it folks!
In 1920, the Merchant Marine Act (also referred to as the Jones Act) was adopted to provide injured sea workers the opportunity to file a lawsuit against their employer for personal injury damages.
Since individuals working at sea are not covered by the workers’ compensation system, the government adopted the Jones Act to provide individuals employed at sea the right to sue for compensation.
To file a lawsuit under Jones Act, the employee must provide that the employer, shipmaster, captain, or crew was negligent in causing personal injures (leading to damages).
The burden of proof to prove a maritime injury under the Jones Act is quite low making it advantageous for see workers to exercise their rights by filing a lawsuit.
To qualify as a Jones Act seaman, the worker must work on a vessel and have duties related to the functioning of the vessel.
For example, longshoremen, harbor workers, dockworkers, individuals working in shipyards and shipping terminals are not covered by Jones Act.
Every Jones Act case is unique.
It’s important to consult with the best Jones Act lawyer that you can find to assess whether you qualify as a seaman and if you can file a lawsuit.
I hope this article gave you some essential information for you to learn more about a “Jones Act lawsuit”, see if you qualify, your burden of proof, the maintenance and cure compensation you may be entitled to, and more.
Let’s look at a summary of our findings.
Jones Act Maritime Law Claims (Overview)
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