What Is the Jones Act?

In 1920 the efforts of Senator Wesley Jones led to the approval of the Merchant Marine Act, which is remembered and recognized even today as the Jones Act. This federal law has a strong protectionist theme to it, in accordance with the historical situation in which it was written. In this sense, in the first part of the Act it establishes that the vessels which fly a US flag must be owned by US companies and be registered in the country. At that time there were attempts to increase the levels of construction and maintenance of boats with US ownership and crews.

As has been shown, the Jones Act was aimed at protecting the United States maritime industry. However, its content goes beyond this first objective and gains great importance because of the way in which it protects in a specific way the rights of the seamen, putting into law some old traditions and practices which look to protect the crew member economically in the event of them being injured at sea. It is important to point out that before this law was introduced any seaman who was injured while working had a very limited possibility of receiving a fair amount of compensation, while they would often lose both their current job and future opportunities due to the injuries.

As a result of what we have just seen, the Jones Act is mainly focused now on the demands which it places on employers to compensate crew members for the costs which result from accidents which have happened onboard a boat.

Who is protected by the Jones Act?

It is vital to point out that – taking into account the current legislation – we will use the name seaman for any person who is employed to take part in any type of work or to carry out any type of role onboard a seagoing vessel; except for scientific staff, sailing school instructors and school students. The definition of seaman is wide and as such the Act protects all of the maritime workers who carry out their jobs as a crew member on a US vessel.

Benefits for the Injured Seaman

The Jones Act gives the employer an obligation to pay the transport costs for moving the worker from the boat to the place where they will receive medical treatment. In the same way, the employer has the obligation to pay the costs (hospital, doctors, medicines, other related costs) relating to the medical attention received by the injured crew member, regardless of who was to blame for the incident which led to the injury.

The Act also states that in the case of employer negligence resulting in an accident to a worker they must pay the lost salary payment. The injured worker could also claim against the employer for the payment of lost salary in the past and in the future. They must also pay the injured crew member a daily amount for living on land which is equal to the amount that would have been spent by them living on board. If the worker dies as a result of the accident there are also benefits laid down for the members of their family.

It is important that we emphasize the fact that in all of the cases where negligence or lack of responsibility on the part of the employer has been proven the compensation will be greater. Generally, it is necessary to demonstrate that the incident happened because the vessel was not seaworthy because it was in bad condition. However, the “seaworthy” element can also be related to the fact that the employer didn’t have a properly prepared crew.

The Jones Act is a hugely important part of maritime rights because it protects seamen who get injured while carrying out their jobs. However, a lack of knowledge sometimes means that there is some confusion over which law is to be applied in the cases of maritime rights and the workers are tempted to use the workers’ compensation laws which have been approved by various states and which result in a lower financial compensation. 

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