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What is a Jones Act “seaman”?

What is a Jones Act “seaman”?

Qualifying as a Jones Act “seaman” requires a worker spends roughly at least 30% of their time on a vessel in navigable waters and contributes to the overall mission of the vessel. To further understand who qualifies it is important to look at the 4 requirements:

  • On a “vessel”
  • “in navigation”
  • for a “significant amount of time”
  • and “contributes to overall mission of the vessel”.

 

“Vessel”

The Jones Act covers injuries that occur during the performance of one’s work on a vessel. The definition of a vessel may seem obvious but has been debated in the courts numerous times.

Traditionally a vessel has been understood as

  • Cargo Ships
  • Bulk Carriers
  • Container Ships
  • Tankers
  • Chemical carriers
  • Auto Carriers
  • Barges
  • Tugboats and towboats
  • Cruise Ships
  • Fishing boats and processors
  • Supply boats
  • Pipelay barges
  • Derrick Barges
  • Drill ships
  • Service Boats
  • Ferryboats and other large passenger boats
  • Reefer Vessels
  • Livestock Carriers
  • Oil Spill Response Vehicles
  • Diving Boats
  • Crab Boats
  • Chartered Boats
  • (Do all these fit and any others?)

As the maritime industry has developed the definition of a vessel has been modified to account for new developments. A 2005 Supreme Court case helped expand the definition of “vessel”. The court ruled a dredger used in the Big Dig project in Boston qualified as a vessel. The dredger had a captain and crew and other features of normal vessel. The question was if it was “in navigation” as it was moved short distances by anchors and cables and long distances by a tugboat. The court decided it was “in navigation” because it could transport people or goods over navigable waters even if that was not the primary purpose of the vessel. The vessel does not have to possess an obvious source of self-propulsion, but just be able to move. The vessel does not have to be in motion or move often, it just has to be able to move in navigable waters.

  • Some of the newer classified vessels include
    • Jack-ups
    • Semi-Submersibles
    • Variety of Oil drilling rigs
    • Floating Barges
    • Dredges
    • Pontoon rafts

 

While the 2005 Supreme Court decision greatly expanded the meaning of “vessel” to most crafts in navigable waters it does have some limitations. A 2013 Supreme Court decision in Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach established a floating home was not a vessel. The court said a reasonable person could see it was not intended to transport people or things over water. While this case limited the meaning of vessel, most watercraft still qualify as vessels.

Workers on watercraft and platforms permanently fixed to the seabed do not qualify for benefits under the Jones Act, but usually qualify for benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. (hyperlink to Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act)

 

 “In Navigation”

“In navigation” describes the location and abilities of the vessel. The vessel must be afloat and in operation. While the clause appears to mean the vessel must be moving, that is not true. The vessel can be tied up at a dock, but typically not out of water in blocks or in a drydock. The vessel must possess the capability to move goods or people through navigable waters, even if that is not the primary purpose.

Navigable waters include waters used for interstate or foreign commerce. This includes oceans, rivers and lakes connecting states or waterways to the oceans or Gulf of Mexico.

Floating restaurants, casinos or barges may be covered by the Jones Act depending on the individual case. The main issue in these cases is often if the vessel is permanently fixed versus capable of moving and if it is intended to transport people or objects over water. As this issue and the other requirements is often sophisticated it would be wise to contact an experienced maritime attorney.

“Contributes to the Overall Mission of the Vessel”

“Contributes to the overall mission of the vessel” covers almost every worker aboard a vessel. It includes the usual tasks such as helping the vessel navigate, function or in any other way travel through navigable waters. Internal task such as cooks, maintenance and management contribute to the mission of the vessel. Workers completing their job on a vessel contribute to the overall mission if their job relates to the mission in any way.

Roustabouts, roughnecks, motormen, derrickhands, shaker hands, or drillers and other employees working on offshore oil rigs or other drilling apparatus contribute to the work of the vessel as well. The rig’s mission is to extract natural resources and those aiding in the process are contributing to the overall mission of the vessel.  If you have questions about whether the Jones Act or maritime law applies to your job, please contact Doyle LLP Doyle Lawyers?)

“Significant Amount of Time”

The significant amount of time requirement is generally met easily by maritime employees. The requirement is satisfied when an employee spends at least 30% of their total employment time on a vessel or type of vessel. A manager could spend most of their time in a land based office but if they spend 30% of their time on a vessel they meet the requirement.  For some employees who might travel from vessel to vessel frequently, the requirement can still be met if they spend 30% of their employment time on a fleet of vessel controlled by the same company.

ABSOLUTELY NO COST TO YOU UNLESS WE WIN.

The lawyers at Doyle LLP have vast experience in offshore claims and understand numerous federal maritime laws, such as the Jones Act law, that apply to offshore claims. Our Texas firm works every day to help clients across state lines and international borders in their maritime accident claims

 

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