The Jones Act (or the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 under its official name) arose at a time that various groups of U.S. workers were beginning to receive rights and recognition under the law. The Acts giving workers rights to sue and to receive more fair treatment at work came after a series of ugly work-related disasters in prior years. These work-related accidents had revealed the hidden plight of many workers in the United States. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory disaster in 1911, which saw almost 150 seamstresses die from the blaze, stands as a well-known example.
The Jones Act received its genesis under a Senator Jones from Washington State. The Jones Act intended to provide legal rights for U.S. merchant Marines, sailors and ships’ crews that were commensurate with the rights that other American workers were beginning to receive.
Prior to the Jones Act, an injured or ill seaman could usually receive care and wages during a sea voyage under the practices of general maritime law. He was also entitled to damages for injuries received because the ship was unseaworthy.
But the seaman was barred from asserting negligence against the ship owner under the theory that he had “assumed the risks” of the seaman’s occupation when he signed the ship’s Articles of employment. (This general practice of maritime law never really addressed the case of the seaman who was “shanghaied” into the occupation, a common occurrence in the mid to late 19th century.) And the 19th and early 20th centuries saw a series of high-profile disasters at sea in which dozens of seamen and sea voyagers were lost. The Titanic disaster still lingers in human memory as an example.
The Jones Act specifically corrected the imbalance and gave the seaman the right to sue the ship’s owner or fellow crewmembers for negligence. In many ways, it tracked the rights given to railway employees in previous years. The Jones Act recognized the dangers of a working life on the sea and sought to provide a more precise schedule of benefits for injured Merchant Marines and other seamen.
But unlike the LHWCA, which covers land-based maritime industry workers, the Jones Act does not constitute a worker’s compensation scheme. The Jones Act specifically created the ability of a seaman to sue for negligence. This means that the seaman, like any other claimant alleging negligence against another party, must prove fault. The help of an experienced maritime lawyer could prove invaluable in that effort.
To win his claim under the Jones Act, the seaman must be able to prove fault against the ship owner, a ship’s officer or operator, or a crewmember. The seaman could also pursue a claim of fault against the ship itself, or its defective tackle, gear, or equipment. Under the Jones Act, ship and equipment defects fall under the label of “unseaworthy.”
Proving fault is often a complex, challenging, and highly technical task. Then, as now, the seaman benefited from the counsel of an experienced maritime lawyer familiar with the issues and the necessary steps to take to obtain convincing evidence to prove a claim. Evidence begins to disappear and degrade almost from the moment an accident occurs. Evidence exposed to the caprice of the sea can be particularly elusive. You need determined, hard-hitting maritime lawyers like those at Denena & Points to ensure that you could meet the burden of proof required by your case.
If you were injured working in the maritime industry and you have a potential Jones Act or LHWCA claim, you probably have questions. A look at our article on the different situations when the Jones Act applies and when the LHWCA applies could help answer some of your simpler questions. For your more pressing questions, you might want to contact our Houston-based maritime lawyers for a free and confidential legal consultation. Our maritime lawyers could answer your concerns, and help you understand your legal options and potential for financial recovery based on the specific facts of your case. Contact us today.