The Jones Act
The Jones Act is a federal statute that provides a remedy for injured maritime workers. According to this act, found in 46 U.S.C.A. § 30104, “a seaman injured in the course of employment or, if the seaman dies from the injury, the personal representative of the seaman, may elect to bring a civil action at law, with the right of trial by jury, against the employer.” Essentially, this means that an injured crewmember may have a claim against his or her employer (and/or the ship owner unless they are one and the same) for negligence if the vessel is unseaworthy. It is the legal duty of a ship’s owner to maintain a seaworthy vessel as well as ensure the safety of all gear and appliances on-board. This duty is absolute under the law, and is not based on the negligence or fault of the ship owner.
According to the Jones Act, “a defective condition of the vessel which proximately causes the seaman’s injury makes the ship unseaworthy as to him.” This does not mean that the entire vessel is unfit, unsafe or unseaworthy. The crewmember’s remedy applies only against the owner of the vessel, gear or appliances. If you are a crewmember that has been injured while employed on a seagoing vessel, contact a maritime law attorney to discuss your legal rights.
It is the duty of the ship’s owner to keep the ship, supplies/gear and appliances in working order, safe and seaworthy. Once a vessel is deemed unseaworthy, the liability for any injuries or property damage done to crewmembers shifts to the ship’s owner. This is to protect seamen from dangerous conditions that are beyond their control. The ship owner’s duty to provide a seaworthy ship is absolute, continuing and independent of the duty to exercise reasonable care seen in standard personal injury claims.
An injured seaman may recover for injuries sustained if he or she is injured due to the unseaworthiness of a vessel. The seaman must show that a defect in the vessel or the vessel’s equipment existed and that the defect in question was the proximate cause of his or her injury. An injured party may also have a contractual claim against a ship owner. This is based on standard language in crewmember hiring contracts; in such contracts is an implied warranty from the ship owner that the vessel is seaworthy at the beginning of the voyage. If a crewmember is injured due to the unseaworthiness of the vessel, this may be a breach of the employment contract.
Time limit to file
Actions brought under the Jones Act are governed by the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), found in 45 U.S.C.A. § 51. The FELA contains a three-year statute of limitations for bringing lawsuits. Therefore, there is a three-year time limitation for filing claims under the Jones Act.
Generally, the cause of action begins to accrue (the three-year time limit starts) when the injury is discovered, or when the injury and its cause are made known.
Speak to a personal injury lawyer
If you or a family member has been injured during the course of employment on a seagoing vessel, you may have a claim under the federal Jones Act. It is important to contact an attorney knowledgeable in the Jones Act to determine your possible personal injury claim and answer any questions you may have.
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