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Injured on an Oil Rig? You May Be Covered by the Jones Act

Oil drilling is a dangerous business. With a fatality rate that exceeds other industries by more than seven times, worker safety has long been a major Injured on an Oil Rigconcern for the gas and oil industry.1 Since the problem shows no signs of going away anytime soon, it’s critical that employers understand their obligations and that workers understand their rights.

If you have sustained injuries while working on an oil rig in the United States, you should familiarize yourself with the Jones Act, a critical piece of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, before contacting a personal injury attorney.


Maritime Security and Worker’s Compensation Under the Jones Act

Passed in the wake of World War I, the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 not only governs the transportation of merchandise on the country’s waterways but also allows maritime employees, including some oil rig workers and workers on the vessels that support them, to obtain compensation if they are hurt on the job.

Of course, only a qualified maritime injury attorney can determine whether each individual case meets the compensation criteria of the Jones Act. If you or someone close to you has been harmed while employed on an oil rig, it’s critical that you reach out to an experienced Jones Act attorney at SMS Legal to evaluate your legal options.


How Does the Jones Act Apply to the Maritime Industry?

Does the Jones Act Apply to the Maritime IndustryEmploying more than half a million people and furnishing more than $100 billion annually to the nation’s coffers, the domestic maritime industry is a critical component of the U.S. economy. One of the most important pieces of legislation governing the sector, the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 regulates the transportation of merchandise (including oil) within the United States.

The law is essentially designed as a national security measure to safeguard America’s waterways and support the domestic shipbuilding industry. As part of its mandate to shore up and regulate the country’s maritime trade, the law also covers seamen in the event that they suffer injury or death while working on a vessel.


How Does the Law Apply to Oil Rigs?

Oil Rigs as Locations – The Jones Act states the following: Any waterborne vessel that transports merchandise between two locations within the How Does the Law Apply to Oil RigsUnited States must be U.S.-owned, built, flagged, and crewed. In other words, if a ship or boat transports goods or persons within the country, it must be:

  • Owned by U.S. interests
  • Built within the United States
  • Manned by a crew that is at least 75 percent American
  • Flying the U.S. flag

Although “location” or “point” often refers to harbors or ports within the U.S., it also includes oil rigs. That means that if an oil station is located anywhere on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf, it is subject to the Jones Act—all vessels that transport merchandise to and from the site must be built, owned, flagged, and crewed in the United States, and that means they must follow specific safety guidelines for workers.

Oil Rigs as Vessels – Maritime law not only treats oil platforms as destination points; it also considers certain types of oil rigs to be vessels. Hence, injuries that occur on specific types of platforms are also subject to the Jones Act, which means they are covered by U.S. regulations governing worker safety.

In order for the maritime act to apply, a few conditions must be met. Specifically, the gas or oil site must be considered a “seagoing vessel.” Only certain types of oil rigs qualify under that definition, namely:

  • Mobile or jack-up rigs
  • Semi-submersible rigs
  • Drilling ships
  • Tension leg platforms

If, on the other hand, the facility is attached to the ocean floor in any way, then it would fall outside the provisions of the Jones Act. In that case, workers might be able to seek compensation under a similar piece of legislation, the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act (LHWCA), which covers land-based maritime employees such as dock workers.


How Does the Jones Act Apply to Oil Workers?

Does the Jones Act Apply to Oil WorkersIn order to receive compensation under the Jones Act, the affected worker must be considered a “seaman” under the law. In order to meet the criteria, an injured employee must have spent more than 30 percent of his or her time working on the vessel, which in this case would be the oil rig. Since the majority of oil workers spend more than one-third of their time on the rig, most injuries that occur onsite would be covered by the Jones Act.

If you’re unsure whether you and your worksite meets the specifications, contact a Jones Act lawyer at SMS Legal for a consultation. Only by speaking with a qualified maritime injury attorney can you know for sure if your case falls under the Jones Act or whether it qualifies under other legislation, such as the LHWCA.


Protecting Waterways, Protecting Workers

The rationale behind the Jones Act is relatively straightforward—it allows the government to secure the nation’s internal shipping lanes and protect Protecting Waterways, Protecting Workersthe domestic shipping industry from global competition and national security threats. Those who support the law argue that permitting only U.S.-controlled vessels to transport merchandise within the country protects national security and advances the domestic economy.

There is, however, at least one more advantage provided by the Merchant Marine Act. In addition to security concerns and economic benefits, the law encourages vessel safety and environmental accountability. Since the United States maintains strict safety and environmental standards for waterborne vessels and their crews, limiting the navigation of the nation’s waterways to U.S.-based vessels forces them to abide by U.S. guidelines, which cover everything from emissions standards and vessel design to safety drills and watch keeping.

By limiting the use of the nation’s waterways to vessels and crews that meet these stringent requirements, the government ensures both individual safety and environmental responsibility. It also provides an avenue for workers to obtain compensation should they sustain injuries during the performance of their duties.


When to Contact a Personal Injury Law Firm

When to Contact a Personal Injury Law FirmAn oil rig worker can sue their employer if they are injured as a result of negligence. They may also initiate a lawsuit if the vessel on wh­ich they worked has been deemed unseaworthy. Typically, the law considers an oil rig unseaworthy if there have been improper maintenance and poor safety records, a lack of proper equipment, or other health and safety violations.

If you or someone you know has suffered injury or death while employed on an oil rig, you should immediately contact the Jones Act lawyers at SMS Legal. Even if you don’t believe your situation falls under the provisions of the Jones Act, an experienced personal injury attorney can evaluate your case and help you or your loved one secure compensation and attain justice.


The Maritime Injury Attorneys at SMS Legal Can Help

SMS Legal is a Jones Act law firm, meaning our experienced maritime injury attorneys who have been in the business of handling maritime injury cases for more than fifty years, are fully qualified to handle personal injury cases that are subject to the Jones Act. We can help you seek justice no matter where you live or work. Specifically, our maritime injury attorneys have litigated cases in the following cities:

  • Seattle
  • Houma
  • Lake Charles
  • Savanah
  • Miami
  • Martin
  • Daytona Beach
  • West Palm
  • Newark, NJ
  • Orange, NJ
  • Baltimore
  • Washington DC
  • Portland, OR
  • Portland, MA
  • Bangor
  • Bigton
  • North Carolina
  • Charleston
  • And many other cities and states

In addition, the personal injury lawyers at SMS Legal are prepared to handle any worker’s compensation case, regardless of legal circumstances. Whether you suffered injuries at sea or on land, on a mobile or stationary oil rig, we can help you evaluate your legal options.

When it comes to maritime law, we handle cases nationwide. Although our main office is located in Houston, Texas, SMS Legal is prepared to help you no matter where you live or work or were injured.



  1. Center for Disease Control. “Oil and Gas Extraction. Inputs: Occupational Safety and Health Risks.”
  1. Offshore Marine Service Association. “The Jones Act & America’s Domestic Maritime Industry.”