The Jones Act is a federal law, passed in the 1920s, to help seamen recover damages when they are injured.
What the Jones Act actually did was to provide seamen with the right to sue their employer when their employer’s negligence causes injury. But it has come to mean much more than that.
Today, when we refer to the Jones Act rights, to a seaman’s Jones Act rights, we’re really referring to the whole package of rights a seaman has when he is injured.
An injured seaman has three basic, fundamental rights.
The right to receive maintenance and cure.
The right to sue his employer if his employer’s negligence causes injury.
And the right to sue the ship owner for an unseaworthy condition. That is, a dangerous condition of the ship, or its gear, that causes injury.
Maintenance and cure is the only one of those three rights that’s no fault. In other words, where the seaman doesn’t have to prove that his employer, or the ship owner, did something wrong.
All the seaman has to do to recover from maintenance and cure is show that his injury, or even an illness, rose in the service of the vessel.
Maintenance and cure provides for lost wages, but only to the end of the voyage. It provides for medical care and it provides a daily stipend to cover the cost of room and board ashore. But again, only until the seaman’s condition reaches maximum medical improvement. That is, the condition’s stabilized.
This is important when you’re dealing with chronic conditions, even serious chronic conditions, such as paralysis.
Once that condition stabilizes, the obligation to provide maintenance and cure ends.
To recover full damages under the Jones Act for negligence or under the General Maritime Law for unseaworthiness, a seaman has to prove that his employer, or the ship owner, was at fault.
An example of negligence might be a slippery condition on deck, such as oil or grease that wasn’t cleaned up by another crew member.
Unseaworthiness usually refers to a dangerous or defective condition of the ship itself, or a ships gear. For example, an engine room ladder that’s too steep, or perhaps doesn’t have non-skid trends.
If a seaman can prove a negligence or unseaworthiness case, he or she is entitled to additional damages. Those damages include his past wage loss, all of his past wage loss, not just the wages to the end of the voyage.
And damages for his reduced ability to earn income in the future, on account of the injuries. Past medical expenses, future medical expenses…even damages for pain, suffering and emotional distress.
If you’re a seaman who’s been injured at work, an experienced Maritime Personal Injury Attorney can help you determine what damages you may be entitled to.