Jones Act Allows Seamen To File Negligence Lawsuits

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Recognizing the perils of working on the high sea, the federal government established the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 to protect workers injured at sea. Commonly referred to as the Jones Act, the scope of employee claims can go beyond that of the workers’ compensation familiar to those on dry land. Men and women working on ships are afforded the standard protections of workers’ compensation in the event of an injury or fatality. But the Jones Act goes a step further and allows seamen to additionally file negligence claims against employers who fail to maintain a reasonably safe work environment. When dealing with legal cases such as these that require an experienced maritime lawyer Houston has seasoned attorneys that can help you.

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Who Qualifies as a Seaman?

The measure of a seaman in a federal court’s eyes is someone spends at least 30 percent of their time on a vessel. The 30 percent number has been applied more as a general rule than strict standard. Courts can weight various other factors to determine status.

Proving Negligence

Consider that you have successfully filed a claim to compensate your lost wages due to a work-related injury. However, the vessel you worked on was unsafe. There are two issues that probably concern you. First, being properly compensated given the employer was at fault. Second, you may want to ensure the employer corrects the deficiencies so others do not suffer similar or worse injuries. A lawsuit should perk up his or her ship standards. However, the burden of proof will be on you to prove negligence. Under the Jones Act, the employer must:

  • Provide a reasonably safe work environment
  • Use reasonable care to maintain a safe working environment

Things that are commonly considered negligent on the employer’s part include:

  • Slippery decks caused by grease or oil
  • Ongoing equipment malfunctions
  • Poorly maintained equipment
  • Not providing employees proper equipment
  • Substandard employee training
  • Unsafe practices
  • Coworker negligence
  • Violence by a crew member
  • Unseaworthy vessel

Under the Jones Acts, the employer need not have a direct hand in the negligence, such as spilling oil on a deck. You need only to prove that the negligence was a result of their failure to act reasonably or they played a significant part in causing your injury.


Unlike stateside workers’ compensation, the Jones Act allows seamen to recoup more than just lost wages by filing a civil lawsuit. If successful, an injured worker can be compensated for damages that also include:

  • Medical costs
  • Future medical expenses
  • Lost earning capacity
  • Mental anguish
  • Pain and suffering

Bear in mind that the Jones Act has a three-year statute of limitations clause.

Injury and negligence claims under the Jones Act are considered a small, niche area of law even among maritime lawyers. If you have suffered an injury while performing duties in the capacity of a working seaman. When seeking an experienced maritime lawyer Houston has an excellent firm with Jones Act experience that can help you.