What is the Jones Act?

In 1920, the United States Congress passed the Jones Act. Beginning at 46 United States Code, Subsection 688, the Jones Act reads as follows:

Any seaman who shall suffer personal injury in the course of his employment may, at his election, maintain an action for damages at law, with the right of trial by jury…and in the case of death of any seaman as a result of any such personal injury, the personal representative of such seaman may maintain an action for damages at law with the right of trial by jury…

Under the Jones Act, a maritime worker is entitled to recover damages upon a showing that his injury is attributable to an unseaworthy vessel or negligence on the part of his employer or a co-employee. Having proved that the damages were caused by such negligence, the injured seaman is entitled to recover a monetary award for past, present and future physical and mental pain and suffering, a dollar- for-dollar loss of earning capacity, medical expenses and recovery of any other provable monetary loss resulting from loss of employment as a maritime worker, i.e. savings plans, medical disability insurance, life insurance or contributions by the employer to a pension plan.

Additionally, seamen are afforded the protection of maintenance and cure. Under admiralty law all seamen are entitled to receive free medical treatment for any injury or ailment received during the worker’s service to the vessel. Additionally, the seaman is entitled to a daily stipend or allowance covering the reasonable expenses of room and board until the seaman is fit for duty.This right to maintenance and cure extends until the worker has achieved maximum medical improvement. Additionally, the right is extended to the worker even if the injury occurred through no fault of the vessel owner or employer. Willful failure or refusal by the employer to provide an injured worker with these benefits exposes the employer to a judicial award of attorneys fees, costs and damages to the employee for such refusal.

With the Jones Act as a foundation, U.S. seamen worldwide are armed with federally mandated law which protects them as they face “the perils of the sea.” Interpreting this law, admiralty courts throughout the United States treat seamen as “wards of the admiralty” and, in doing so, provide them with the security of knowing that employers are answerable to their employees for injury caused by negligent practices or procedures, or an unseaworthy vessel.