Jones Act Overview


The Jones Act (46 USC § 30104) refers to the federal law regarding personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits by seamen against their employers. The Jones Act allows the officers and crew members of a vessel the right to file a case against their employers for negligence, when that negligence has a significant part in a death or injury at the sea. The remedies under the Jones Act are as follows:

  • Lost income capacity
  • Past and future medical costs
  • Pre-judgment interests
  • Pain and suffering and
  • Found (refers to the value of the room and board a seaman would have received if he stayed at the sea)


The plaintiff should show that his case meets the requirements for a Jones Act lawsuit to recover under this Act.


First of all, the plaintiff should establish that the injuries sustained must have happened on a navigable vessel. The Supreme Court, in a decision in 2005 regarding the Stewart v Dutra Construction Company, gave a dispositive definition for a “vessel” because it involves Jones Act claims. The Court described a vessel to include “every description of watercraft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water.” Although this appears to be an expansive definition of a vessel, there are still other things outside this definition, even though they may be at the sea. The fixed oil rigs, for example, are not vessels because they cannot be used for aquatic transportation. The submersible oil rigs may generally qualify as vessels because the rig itself floats and can find its way on the water.


Second, the plaintiff was a seaman when the injury occurred. The courts always decide on a particular issue on a case to case basis.

There are certain guidelines for what entails a seaman but the main rule is, to qualify as a seaman, the worker must play a part in the operations of the vessel. In other words, the worker must help in the fulfillment of the mission and goal of the vessel.

In order to apply this rule, the courts have unanimously ruled out the longshoreman and other dockworkers as seaman, although they are injured while working on a vessel. Courts have concluded that longshoreman simply load and unload the equipment or cargo and does not actually work the main tasks of the vessel.

The issue is closer for workers like equipment operators, and the courts normally will check on the duties of the workers and the time spent on the vessel to know whether the labor of the worker was mainly to fulfill the mission and goal of the vessel.

It is also important to note that the Jones Act plaintiff should have been an employee of the owner of the vessel to receive the protection of the Act. Those who are not employees but suffered injuries or death while on the vessel must find recovery through other federal or state laws.

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