Maritime Worker Rights Under the Jones Act

The Jones Act, written into U.S. federal law in 1920 as the Merchant Marine Act, regulates what vessels must do to protect their employees from work-related harm.  More stringent than the guidelines set for land employees covered by federal Occupational Health and Safety (OSHA) regulations, the Jones Act protects and legislates compensation to members of a vessel’s crew injured due to their maritime employer’s negligence or safety violations. A Jones Act lawyer Houston-based would fight for the rights of injured Port Houston workers, for example. By way of the Jones Act Richardson Companies, whose barges and boats shuttle containers between nearby Baytown and Port Houston, and a Carnival Cruise liner departing from nearby Galveston with vacationing passengers, must comply with the following Jones Act regulations:

  1. Provide a safe place to work  
  2. Provide medical care adequate to maintain workers’ good health
  3. Train and oversee all staff, so that one worker’s negligence does not negatively impact another’s health and safety
  4. Quickly and effectively search for, and hopefully rescue, any vessel staff member who falls or jumps overboard
  5. Maintain the vessel in a condition that provides safe working and living conditions
  6. Keep adequate safety gear and equipment, in good working condition, on board the vessel
  7. Maintain vessel recreation facilities in safe working order
  8. Hire and maintain a crew competent to fulfill assigned duties

According to the Jones Act Houston-based staff working on these port barges, cruise lines or other vessels, have the right, within three years of injury, to appear in court as defendant, with their employer as plaintiff, to demand financial compensation for injury. An experienced Jones Act lawyer Houston-based would represent the injured worker. These same rights to compensation and court resolution extend, of course, to maritime workers in other parts of the United States as well.

The primary qualifier for such protection is that the defendant be a “seaman.” 

The following are generally understood as qualifiers for Jones Act seaman status:

  • A person who works on a vessel or a fleet operating in navigable waterways. The term navigable simply means that these waterways can accommodate foreign or interstate commerce. 
  • A person who performs work related to the purpose of the employer’s vessel or fleet.   
  • A person who spends a substantial amount of work hours on the vessel. (While one federal court has quantified substantial as 30 percent of work hours, this decision has not set that figure in stone for future cases.  There is still flexibility.) 

To maritime workers, their rights under the Jones Act can be confusing. If injured, a vessel employee should quickly seek the expertise of an attorney experienced in the protections and procedures of this 97-year-old federal legislation. 


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