The Jones Act governs the relationship between crewmembers and their employer aboard a ship.[1] The Jones Act was created in 1920 for two reasons, to protect the United States from foreign trade and to govern the relationship between crewmembers and their employers.  Before the Jones Act crewmembers had little recourse against employers for injuries sustained as a result of or in the course of their employment.


Title 46 of the Jones act allows injured seamen to bring a civil action against his employer for injuries and damages suffered during the course and scope of their employment. Members of a vessel’s go by many different names and titles: masters, captains, offices, and crewmembers.  The “Jones Act” covers all of the above-mentioned members of a ship’s crew (including some others depending on their duties) and allows them to recover damages based on meeting certain criteria of negligence and unseaworthyness. Under the Jones Act the category of people who may recover for damages are called “seamen.” The Jones Act covers seamen on cruise ships, tugboats, and many other types of vessels. Seamen may recover for injuries and, in some instances, death due to an accident caused by the negligence of their employer or co-workers.


Many jobs aboard vessels are dangerous, and even when employers make crewmembers aware of the risks associated with their jobs, Seamen may recover damages for injuries sustained during their job. Crewmembers face unique and ever-present risks of serious personal injury and even death while working aboard ships.


The Jones Act protects crew members from around the world, including (but not limited to) a captain and mate in the wheelhouse to a deckhand, wiper, housekeeper, steward, engineer, fish processor, cook and even a tour guide aboard a charter vessel. Under the Jones Act the lowest members of the crew have the same rights as the captain of the ship. There are also members of a crew that only work during the day and go home at night, known as “day workers.” The Jones Act also protects Day workers.


Jones Act Seamen are entitled to a wide array of damages depending on their injury and how their injury has or will affect their ability to work. Jones Act Seamen may recover for, past or future lost wages, medical expenses, ongoing/future medical care expenses, mental anguish, pain and suffering, disfigurement and other losses depending the seriousness of their injuries.


You have 3 years to bring a Jones Act Claim


You have 3 years from the date of your injury to bring a claim for a violation of the Jones Act. Depending on your case there may be exceptions to this rule. For example, when you have a case against a vessel that is owned, operated, or contracted by the United States, you may have less time to bring your claim. Three years may seem like a lot, but an experienced attorney knows that in order to bring a good claim (where you can recover as much as possible) the sooner you contact an attorney the better.


Vessel Unseaworthiness


Every ship owner owes the warranty of unseaworthiness to it’s crew members. This Warranty creates an absolute duty for a ship owner to provide a vessel that is “reasonably fit for its intended purpose.” Seaworthiness applies to all aspects of the ship including (but not limited to) the ships hull, mechanics, ropes and ties, and everything that contributes to a vessel’s ability to operate effectively. Unseaworthiness is regulated by statute.  A violation of a regulation, relating to safety will justify a finding of unseaworthiness per se (a presumption of unseaworthiness).  A vessel does not have to leave port in order to receive a finding of unseaworthiness. Even if the problem develops later (once the ship is at sea) without the ship owner’s knowledge, the ship owner can be held responsible.


There are significant differences between a Jones Act claim and a claim for Unseaworthiness. A Jones Act claim is based on negligence, meaning the employer is responsible for fault to some degree. In contrast, Unseaworthiness holds a ship owner strictly liable for an injury caused by a vessel that is unfit for sea, has defective equipment or mechanical issues. The two claims also differ in who they can be brought against.  Jones Act claims may be brought against a seamen’s employer, where unseaworthiness claims may be brought against the owner of the vessel.


Examples of unseaworthiness include:


Slippery Deck – it is part of the ship owner’s responsibility to make sure that the deck is being properly maintained. This includes making sure that the deck is not unreasonably slippery. Also, the gangways and ladders should be properly maintained.


Carrying Heavy Loads – Oftentimes when ships carry heavy loads they may damage the ship. Also, if these loads aren’t secured properly they my cause injury or damage the ship, leaving the crewmembers to suffer the consequences.


Failure of Vessel Equipment – Vessel under normal use may also give rise to a claim of unseaworthiness. The wear and tear of ordinary use, when not maintained, can have dangerous consequences.


Improperly Maintained Hull – When the hull is defective or has not been properly maintained issues with seaworthiness can arise. When analyzing these issues our team will examine the gear, equipment and tools used on the vessel.


Inadequately Trained Crew – If the members of the crew not properly trained and are not equipped to deal with the challenges of running a ship or the captain is incompetent a claim for unseaworthiness may exist.


Some other things that may contribute to unseaworthiness are: deck obstructions, unsafe method of work, unfit cargo, improperly trained ship’s doctor, failure to provide protective clothing. The Kervin Law firm is ready and willing to assess your situation and determine what issues of unseaworthiness exist in your claim. Contact our team immediately to make sure that we have the best chance to respond to your issues and file a claim on your behalf.


Unseaworthiness, like any other claim, requires certain elements to be proven to the Judge or Jury deciding your case. Every element of the claim has to be proven to the jury in order for you to be able to recover for your injury. If all of the elements are not proven, you will not be able to recover for your claim. It is important that you hire an experienced attorney to handle your case. Knowing what elements must be proven under each maritime claim and how to prove these elements is an important part of the strategy of any attorney.



Who qualifies as a Seaman?


The Jones Act covers a specific group of people including: masters, captains, officers and members of the crew known as Seaman. Seamen are men/women whose duties contribute to the overall function of a vessel, either in navigation or in the accomplishment of some goal.


Usually, anyone who spends 30% or more of their time working on a vessel (ship) or group of vessels that are moving (in navigation) and those vessels are owned by the same person or company, qualifies as a Jones Act seaman.


For example, if you were a deckhand, responsible for the overall maintenance of the ships deck for an extended period of time, you would probably be considered a seamen. If you work for a telecommunications firm that contracted with the ship to check the ships satellite connection while at port, you are probably not considered a seamen.


An employee who does not meet the above criteria will not be covered under the Jones Act but may be covered under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.


How to recover damages under the Jones Act?


In order to recover for damages under the Jones Act a seamen must prove negligence on behalf of their employer. The employer could be: the ship owner, the company that contracted the use of the ship or the company that manages a fleet of vessels.


The Jones Act is based on “comparative negligence.” Comparative negligence means that in a typical Jones Act case an employer may reduce the damages actually awarded to the seamen based on the amount that the seamen contributed to the damage.


For example, in a typical Jones Act claim, if a jury finds that you were 50 percent negligent and your employer was 50 percent negligent, you may recover 50% your damages against your employer, your damages are reduced by the percentage of your own negligence.


Damages may be available when your employer negligently fails to provide you with a safe working environment, appropriate training, and effective equipment. If your employer does not fulfill all of it’s required duties, also known as negligence, and you are injured as a result, you most likely have a claim under the Jones Act.


Jones Act seamen may also recover under “negligence per se” meaning that they may be able to pursue their claim under strict liability.  Recovery under negligence per se would allow the seamen to recover all damages regardless of their contribution to the accident. In order to satisfy the requirements for this type of negligence claim the seamen will have to prove that the employer is strictly liable for the injury due to their violation of a federal statute.


Beware, in some areas the Jones Act will not apply where the relationship between employee and employer is blurred. In some instances employees and employers may share responsibility for the management and course of the vessel. Instances where these decision-making choices are shared the Jones Act does not apply. The Jones Act also does not cover volunteer members of a yacht’s crew, but paid crewmembers are covered.


Under the Jones Act a seaman may recover for several types of damages:


Lost Wages – A seaman may recover for lost wages during the time that they were unable to work do to injuries sustained during their work. Seaman are also allowed to recover damages for lost wages when they have healed, but are not able to work at the same level that they worked before they were injured.  If your ability to work (at all or at the same level as before) has been effected by injuries covered under the Jones Act you may be able to recover damages.


Disfigurement – If your injury effects they way you look, appear, or function you may be able to recover for disfigurement as a result of your injuries. These damages are instituted to compensate someone for the stress and embarrassment they suffer due to a significant change in the way they appear to others. If you have been disfigured in some way due to your injuries, you may be able to recover damages for disfigurement.


Pain and Suffering – this category of damages is complicated and difficult to assess. The court will attempt to assess the appropriate amount that applies to the pain suffered during your injury.


Assisted Living/Medical Expenses – Injuries covered by the Jones Act may go above and beyond what medical insurance provides. The Jones Act provides for recovery for expenses for medical, assisted living, and other healthcare needs accrued as a result of injuries covered by the act. Continuing costs may be requested depending on the length of treatment needed.


Mental Anguish – Overall being able to enjoy your life as you did before is an important aspect of recovering from injuries. If your injuries effect your ability to enjoy your life as you did before the accident, you may be able to recover damages for mental anguish.


The Jones Act not only covers injuries sustained during the “course and scope” of work, but also injuries sustained while coming and going to the vessel. Also, in the event that the employer allows crewmembers to return to the vessel while intoxicated, the employer may also be held responsible for injuries as a result of intoxication.


The Kervin Law firm is ready and willing to assess your situation and determine what particular damages you may be able to recover under your claim. The faster you contact our team, the faster we will be able to respond to your claim and seek recovery.


Maintenance and Cure


Seamen are entitled to an allowance called “maintenance” and “cure” when they become ill or injured while onboard or  “subject to the call of the vessel.”  Maintenance and Cure are completely separate from Jones Act claims and as such are not subject to the criteria set forth under negligence. But, like remedies received under the Jones Act, a determination of Seamen status is required to recover.


The employer or ship owner is obligated to pay maintenance, cure, and sick wages regardless of their fault or negligence and recovery does not have to be based on an injury or illness related to the work or occupation of the crewmember. The injury or illness could have been triggered by virtually anything including a preexisting condition.


  • “subject to the call of the vessel” – simply explained means while onboard, working for the ship or on-call.
  • Maintenance – the per diem allowance for living expenses. This daily allowance is intended to give the ill or injured crewmember room and board while recovering from the injury.
  • Cure – medical care and costs associated with that care and transportation to and from doctor visits.
  • Sick wages – wages that would have otherwise been earned had the seamen not been injured under the Jones Act. This amount is determined by assessing how much the injured crewmember would receive if they worked through the remainder of the voyage.


When a member of the crew suffers an injury, accident or illness while onboard or “subject to the call of the vessel.” You may have a claim when your marine employer does not pay maintenance and cure benefits. The Kervin Law firm is ready and willing to assess your situation and determine if you are owed back maintenance and cure allowances. The faster you contact our team, the faster we will be able to respond to your claim and seek recovery.

[1] Maritime Law Center