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Jones Act

Offshore workers that suffer serious personal injuries due to negligence during the course of employment are protected under the Jones Act. Enacted in 1920, the Jones Act is the body of law that defines the legal rights of sailors who are injured and the surviving family members of seamen who are killed while working onboard a floating vessel.

Before the Jones Act was enacted, injured sailors had a difficult time suing their employers for damages. The employers would often argue that they weren't responsible and blame other employees for the injuries. The Jones Act was created to put an end to such barriers and to offer better protection for seamen since their jobs come with so many risks.

Prior to the Jones Act, maritime workers who were injured or killed through the negligence of another worker or anyone other than the employer, directly, were only entitled to "maintenance and cure." Maintenance and cure included an allowance that covered medical expenses, food and lodging. When seamen were injured through the negligence of the ship master or a fellow crew member, for instance, they could not seek additional damages from the employer.

History of the Jones Act

A series of historical developments encouraged Congress to provide sailors with more rights. The sinking of the Titanic in 1912, for example, increased public awareness of the many dangers at sea. World War I also raised concerns for merchant marines. These and other events showcased the dangers that seamen and offshore workers faced. In 1920, Congress responded to the events and enacted the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, which later became the Jones Act.

The Jones Act states that any seaman who is injured at work can seek damages from his employer. The law also allows families of offshore workers that are killed during the course of employment to rely on the Jones Act to hold the employer accountable for their loss.

Who is protected?

Over the years, the definition of who is considered a "seaman" has evolved. In order to be protected under the Jones Act, the workers' duties must contribute to the function of the vessel or help it accomplish its mission and the worker must have a connection with a vessel in navigation.


Workers covered include those who work on a wide range of vessels, including (but not limited to):

  • Ocean going vessels
  • Commercial fishing boats
  • Crew boats
  • Tugboats
  • Supply boats
  • Dredges
  • Cruise ships
  • Oil rigs


Learn More About the Jones Act

To learn more about the Jones Act, or to contact a maritime lawyer about your rights as a seaman or offshore worker, or as a family member of an offshore worker that was killed during the course of duty, contact us today at (800) 773-6770 or fill out the Free Case Evaluation Form at the top of the page.

Additional Sources of Information Regarding Maritime Law and the Jones Act

Jones Act: Merchant Marine Act of 1920, also known as the Jones Act was adopted by the US COngress in 1920. It is a United States federal statute that provides for the promotion and maintenance of the American merchant marine and its seamen and vessels.

Overview of The Jones Act and Seamen's Injuries: Unlike almost all land-based workers, seamen are not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits under either state or federal law. Because injured seamen cannot file workers’ compensation claims against their employers, the only compensation that they are legally entitled to receive for their injuries is through the Jones Act and the general maritime law.

Who Qualifies as a "Seaman" Under the Jones Act: A seaman is a citizen of the United States who spends a significant amount of his/her time working as a crewmember or a captain on a US flagged vessel that is considered “in navigation” within the coastal waters and inland waterways of the US.

US Department of Transportation: Maritime Administration The Maritime Administration (MARAD) is the Federal agency that provides assistance to the shipping public in locating U.S.-flag vessels for the carriage of both domestic and international cargo. To encourage a strong U.S. Merchant Marine for both national defense and economic security, the Jones Act (46 U.S.C. § 55102) requires that merchandise being transported by water between U.S. points must travel in U.S.-built and U.S.-citizen owned vessels that are registered in the United States.

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