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The Jones Act is part of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, and addresses the rights of seamen injured on the job at sea.
The Jones Act was designed primarily to offer relief to seamen, who were at a high risk of injury or death at sea. It only applies to seamen who meet eligibility criteria as laid down by the Act. Before the Merchant Marine Act was passed, a seaman's life was dramatically different from that we see today. Seamen were subject to ill treatment by their employers or masters, abused, and forced to work in filthy and unsafe work conditions. These workers had no recourse to justice in the event of an injury. Before the Jones Act came along, injuries were considered part of a seaman's life. Being injured, falling sick, or dying at sea were considered occupational hazards. Injured seamen could not hope to hold their employers accountable for negligent conditions contributing to the injury.
Attitudes towards seamen began to undergo a slow change towards the turn of the last century. In 1912, the Titanic sank, and with it, the world was introduced to the high risks of a seaman's job, and the negligible protection they enjoyed under the law.
Since the Jones Act was passed by Congress, it has undergone several changes in the form of judicial rulings that have challenged the definitions of key concepts of the Act. The definition of a seaman, as laid down by the Act, has expanded to include more and more numbers of workers. The Act is also sufficiently vague on certain important questions of seamen status or vessel status, so that maritime lawyers are constantly challenged by new cases which call a person or vessel's status into question.
Although the Jones Act provides for compensation for injured seamen, it is vastly different from the Workers' Compensation Act, or even other maritime laws like the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act. Workers' Compensation payouts are available to injured workers as a matter of right, irrespective of whether the employer was negligent, and without the burden on the worker to prove employer negligence. The Jones Act however, requires that an injured seaman prove employer negligence in order to be eligible for benefits. The negligence does not have to be major, or even substantial. Even minor negligence on the part of an employer resulting in a seaman's injuries, can place the seaman eligible to file a Jones act claim.
The Jones Act offers injured workers access to substantial payouts that are far greater than the kind available under Worker's Compensation. That's why it's very important that you consult only with an experienced Jones Act lawyer who has experience handling injury claims under the Act.
The Jones Act lawyers at Schechter McElwee Shaffer and Harris, LLP have decades of experience representing seamen who have been injured on a vessel, and are eligible for benefits under the Jones Act. Contact us for a free initial consultation. We take on cases on a contingency basis - you don't have to pay anything, until we recover compensation for you.