What is Covered Under the Jones Act?

Suffering an injury is an emotionally and financially taxing experience. If you are injured while at work, the process of lobbying for compensation can add unwanted stress to your recovery.

If you are a seaman, however, there are a few extra things you have to navigate if you are injured at work. The Jones Act was created in part to help secure the rights of seamen. If you have been injured while working on a ship, you may be able to seek compensation under the Jones Act.

Keep reading to find out what the Jones Act is and what it covers.

What Is the Jones Act?

The Jones Act is part of a larger law called the Merchant Marine Act of 1920. The Merchant Marine Act regulates maritime commerce in the United States. Section 27 of this law is known as the Jones Act.

This provision is often confused with a couple of other laws that apply to maritime work.

The first one is the Death on the High Seas Act. This law does not cover coastal waters or in-land navigable waters. This means that injuries suffered on the coastline or traversing canals, rivers, and lakes are not covered.

The other law is the Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886. This Act only regulates passenger vessels, like cruise ships.

The Jones Act covers two main points: cabotage and the rights of seamen. We will go into these two in further detail below.


Cabotage refers to goods that are transported between two locations in the United States. When the Jones Act was first passed, this applied only to goods transported using coastal waters.

However, this has expanded to include goods transported through air travel.

The Jones Act stipulates that goods can only be shipped between two ports if the vessel is made in the U.S. and owned by a U.S. citizen. The crew on the ship must comprise at least 75% U.S. citizens.

A waiver can be obtained, but securing one is rare.

Seamen’s Rights

The Jones Act allows seamen to seek compensation if they are injured or die at sea. In the case of death, a personal representative may seek compensation on their behalf. In any of these cases, the party may bring a civil lawsuit against the seaman’s employer.

The injured party has the right to claim damages when the employer’s negligence causes the plaintiff injury. Negligence can include unsafe instructions, unsafe work conditions, faulty equipment, failure to provide medical treatment, and more.

Employers may also be responsible if an injury isn’t work-related. If a seaman is injured on the ship where they live or work but isn’t currently at work, the employer may still be responsible.

What Constitutes a Vessel?

In this case, a vessel is defined as any ship that is used to facilitate work on the water. There are some exceptions to this, however.

As mentioned before, the Passenger Vessels Services Act covers cruise ships and other passenger vessels. The Jones Act may protect cruise ship workers in some cases, but will not apply to guests aboard the ship.

Oil production platforms affixed to the seabed are also exempt under the Jones Act. The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act can help address injuries on these types of vessels.

Other than that, most other seaworthy vessels used for transporting cargo are covered.

Some of the ships included are commercial fishing boats, barges, semi-submersibles rigs, drilling ships, tugboats, and a lot more. If you work on the water, it can be a good idea to check to see if you work on a vessel covered by the Jones Act.

Even if you do not, there should be a law that applies to your type of ship if you are injured.

What Is a Seaman?

Despite working on a maritime vessel, you may not meet the criteria to be classified as a seaman. The Jones Act doesn’t explicitly state what constitutes a seaman, but some loose parameters have been created, but are also frequently debated.

You may qualify under the Jones Act if you meet the following conditions. First, that you work on a ship used on waterways for national and international commerce. Second, if you spend more than 30% of your time on that ship, you may qualify.

The second parameter was established as a result of Chandris, Inc., v. Latsis.

Even though you believe you meet the parameters to be classified as a seaman, the qualifications are not straightforward. Trying to navigate these classifications can be difficult on your own, especially if you are unfamiliar with the nuances of the law.

You should contact an attorney that specializes in the Jones Act and maritime law to assist you.

What Is Venue?

Venue refers to the proper place to file a lawsuit. For maritime employees, this can be a bit confusing, especially if you are out at sea.

The first thing to know is that your lawsuit can be filed in state or federal court. Beyond that, what determines the venue of your lawsuit generally depends on two things.

If your accident occurs in the state of Texas, you can file your lawsuit in Texas. The other factor is where the defendant lives or their business is headquartered. If their business resides in Texas, you can also proceed with filing charges in Texas.

One of the benefits of the Jones Act is that there is a lower burden of proof for the plaintiff. If the plaintiff can prove that the defendant’s actions were in any way responsible for their injuries, no matter how minuscule, they can be held responsible.

Maritime Law and More

If you found this article helpful on the Jones Act, we also offer aid when it comes to other areas of the law. At Roberts Markland LLP, we specialize in helping clients receive compensation for medical practice, wrongful death, breach of contract, and many other areas of the law.

If you need help seeking compensation, contact us for a consultation.