The cornerstone of the U.S. merchant mariner’s rights is the Jones Act. It was named
for Senator Wesley Jones during the administration of President Woodrow Wilson,
and is otherwise known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920. The Jones Act
addresses the construction and manning of vessels as well as legal remedies for
injured seamen. Essentially, the Jones Act took the remedies available to railroad
workers under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) and extended them to
merchant seamen.

The Jones Act requires that commerce between U.S. ports on the inland and
intracoastal waterways be reserved for vessels that are:

▪ U.S. Built
▪ U.S. Owned
▪ Registered under U.S. Law
▪ U.S. Manned

The architects of the Jones Act recognized that a strong merchant marine was good
for the economy and national security. The legislative intent was that U.S. shipyards
would enjoy construction contracts, the treasury would enjoy tax revenues, U.S.
merchant mariners would enjoy employment, and U.S. ships would operate under
high standards of safety and crew competency.

In addition to governing the construction and operation of ships within the United
States, the Jones Act codified the remedies of individual merchant mariners in the
event of an injury. As an Act of Congress, the Jones Act gives rise to a Federal cause
of action, indicating that its planners wished for the application of a uniform standard
of liability throughout United States Courts.

And it is this part of the Jones Act that most working mariners are familiar with…the
legal remedy of an injured seaman, fishermen (legally, a fishermen is a Jones Act
seaman). The exclusive class of persons to whom the Jones Act allows recovery is
seamen. A seaman is a member of the crew of a vessel, man or woman, or someone
assigned to the vessel. To be a seaman, the person’s duties must contribute to the
function of the vessel, and he or she must have a connection with the vessel in
navigation, and the duration of the person’s connection and nature of the person’s
activities with the vessel must evidence that he is a member of the crew.

To qualify as a seaman, one must meet the following requirements: (1.) they must
contribute to the function of the vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission. (2.)
they must have a connection to a vessel in navigation (or to an identifiable group of
vessels) that is substantial in terms of both its duration and its nature. Chandris v.
Latsis 515 U.S. 347, 368 (1995).

Through the Jones Act, an injured seaman can bring a claim for negligence against
the employer. Basically, negligence means carelessness…or departure from a
standard of care on the part of the vessel that led to a seaman’s injury. Damages that
an injured seaman is entitled to include:

▪ Lost wages
▪ Medical expenses
▪ Pain, suffering, and mental anguish

You can read the actual text by clicking
Text of the Jones Act, which will link you to
that page.

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The Jones Act - Legal Rights of Commercial Seamen & Fishermen
Injured at Sea - Hurt Offshore - Maritime Injury - Inland Water Injuries - Commercial Divers - Tankermen - Seamen
The Jones Act has weathered
opposition from reform groups who
want to effectively remove or waive the
manning requirements that protect the
American commercial seaman. Some
of these groups appear to have no
connection to the maritime
industry…leave alone a passionate
interest in seeing the Jones Act
dismembered. It’s a tug of war between
the rights, safety and dignity of the
American working mariner on one hand
and cheap transportation on the other.
My heart is with the working
mariner…but let's get back to the nuts
and bolts of the Jones Act.
Framing a Cause of Action
When a commercial
fisherman or other seaman
brings a lawsuit for injury -
injuries, the claim is framed
in a legal theory of one kind or
another. A lawsuit can
combine legal theories and
be based on more than one
at a time. The legal theory of a
seaman's claim...identifies
the basis of the action.

For instance, if the seaman
bases his cause of action on
Jones Act negligence,
everyone in the court will
know the variety of case it is.
This means knowing what the
legal burdens are for the
seaman to prove negligence,
what the statute of limitations
will be, what the standard
damages will include, what
the defendant's typical
defenses will be in a
negligence action.

Negligence is one of the most
common legal theories on
which an injured seaman will
bring his or her lawsuit. But
there are other legal theories
on which a seaman may
bring an action. Probably the
second most well known
legal theory for seaman's
claims is one for
unseaworthiness against the
vessel’s owner if the vessel
was unseaworthy. Vessel
owners owe seamen a strict
and absolute duty to provide a
seaworthy vessel, that is, one
reasonably fit for its intended

But unlike negligence claims,
which are against the
employer, claims for
unseaworthiness are brought
against the vessel owner.
Also, the entire vessel need
not be unseaworthy, only the
part that caused the seaman’
s injury.
The matter of as Dize v.
Association of Maryland Pilots
raised questions about what is
required for seaman status.
Although the Supreme Court denied
the petition for certiorari on the
matter, a number of federal circuits
hold that time in the service of the
vessel, even if ashore, counts
toward the time necessary to
Jones Act seaman status.