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The Jones Act, what is it and how does it help?

January 9, 2012

The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, better known as the Jones Act, regulates maritime commerce in the U.S. waters and between U.S. ports.  The act covers employees of U.S. ships who suffered personal injury, illness, or death during the course of their employment.  The Jones act allows those injured employees to seek damages in a trial by jury.  This act primarily protects those employees who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents, but may protect others under certain circumstances.  A non-U.S. employee may recover under the Jones Act if he or she was injured while working on a U.S. ship, in U.S. waters, if the ship was constructed to transport cargo, and was in fact transporting cargo.  The employee may recover regardless of whether (s)he or the employer was at fault.

In addition to damages for injuries, an employee may also recover for “unseaworthiness” and “maintenance and cure”.  Unseaworthiness can be seen as punitive damages, as it covers such injuries as pain and suffering, impairment of earning potential, hospital bills, and other reasonable losses from the original injury.  Unseaworthiness can be recovered even if the employee is found guilty of contributory negligence (shared negligence); the amount of recovery will, however, be reduced.  While an employee may be rejected under the Jones Act or Unseaworthiness, he or she may recover under Maintenance and Cure by proving only that the injury was sustained during the course of employment. Generally, a claim must be brought within 3 years of the injury.

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