Maritime Workers, The Jones Act, And Workers Compensation Explained

The Jones Act  

Sailors are covered under the Jones Act. This is a very complex set of maritime laws governing how sailors and many maritime workers get compensated for injuries occurring while serving on vessels at sea.  Originally enacted in 1920 as the Merchant Marine Act, it is known for Senator Wesley Jones, who sponsored it. The law enacted protection to sailors similar to that already in place for railroad workers under the Federal Employment Liability Act (FELA). The law is found at 46 U.S. Code Chapter 18 §688. The new Jones Act was passed by Congress and signed into law in 2006.

The Jones Act is not workers’ compensation, although they are often confused.  Neither is it the same as the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA).


Who Qualifies?

The Jones Act generally applies to seamen “permanently assigned” to a vessel. This means that maritime workers must not spend less than 30 percent of their time in the service of a vessel on navigable waters. If so, they are presumed not to be a seaman under the Jones Act.

The Jones Act also covers the dependents of seamen whose death comes from a covered injury. The dependents can bring a wrongful death suit under the Jones Act for the loss of income that was supporting them prior to the seaman’s death.

Maritime workers who do not qualify may be covered under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, which provides workers’ compensation to specified employees of private maritime employers who are injured on navigable waters. Navigable waters include places on land that adjoin the water such as docks, piers and places near them like loading and ship building areas.


What Is the Court Process?

An action under the Jones Act may be brought either in a U.S. federal court or in a state court.  The seaman is entitled to a jury trial, a right which is not usually afforded in maritime law.


How Are Maritime Workers Compensated?

Maritime workers are compensated for work related injuries due to negligence of the ship owner, captain or crew members. They can also bring actions against ship owners for the vessel being unseaworthy. A vessel does not have to be in danger of sinking to be found unseaworthy. Only seamen under the Jones Act can bring a claim of unseaworthiness, not maritime workers covered under the LHWCA. In addition, seamen can bring an action against their employer for a lack of medical care. This is important because a vessel may be a long way from medical care when out at sea.

Benefits are paid for the actual injury and time off work, medical bills, occupational therapy, pain and suffering. Thus the Jones Act provides compensation for both economic and non-economic losses both past and future. Compensation is often higher than “normal” workers’ compensation benefits.

Maritime workers are entitled to “maintenance and cure,” even if they are not covered as seamen by the Jones Act. Maintenance is a daily allowance to replace the wages the maritime worker would have received but for the injury. Cure is the employer’s obligation to provide all necessary medical care, including hospitalization and rehabilitation services. It is possible for seamen to recover under the Jones Act in addition to maintenance and cure.


Seek Legal Advice

Before filing a claim several important things must be considered.  Is it a claim for The Jones Act or Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act?  There are in excess of 25 different worker categories covered by the Jones Act.  Determining where a worker fits under this very complex and changing maritime law is really the job for a qualified maritime attorney.  Benefits, time and money may be lost if filing mistakes are made.


Author Michael B. Stack, CPA, Director of Operations, Amaxx Risk Solutions, Inc. is an expert in employer communication systems and part of the Amaxx team helping companies reduce their workers compensation costs by 20% to 50%. He is a writer, speaker, and website publisher.  Contact:


©2013 Amaxx Risk Solutions, Inc. All rights reserved under International Copyright Law.


Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker, attorney, or qualified professional about workers comp issues.

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