All About Maritime Injury Laws

What is the Jones Act?

The Jones Act, also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, is a law that enables certain maritime workers (“seamen”) who have been injured at sea while employed to bring a personal injury action against their employers for money damages.

Who is Covered by the Jones Act?

A “seaman” is defined as a maritime worker who spends at least 30% of their time on a vessel. Their duties must contribute to the function of the vessel or accomplishment of its mission. A maritime worker must be considered a seaman in order to be covered by the Jones Act.

What Types of Injuries Are Covered Under the Jones Act?

Injuries suffered by a seaman while working in the service of an offshore vessel in navigable waters fall under the Jones Act. Some common types of injuries covered include:

  • • Neck injuries
  • • Back injuries
  • • Brain injuries
  • • Injuries to the spine
  • • Burns
  • • Death

What Is Defined as a Vessel in the Jones Act?

Many types of boats are considered to be vessels, for example:

  • • cargo ships
  • • barges
  • • tugboats
  • • semi-submersible rigs
  • • mobile offshore drilling units

How Does the Jones Act Work?

The Jones Act allows injured seamen to collect money damages (not limited to workers compensation benefits) against their employer for on-the-job accidents due to an employer’s negligence, or unseaworthy/unsafe conditions. Seamen have the right to a jury trial, and no government agency is involved.

Jones Act lawsuits must be filed within 3 years from the date of the injury.

What is the Longshore & Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA)?

The LHWCA is administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, and is a statutory law enacted in 1927. It provides coverage for injuries to maritime workers not covered by the Jones Act. It entitles a worker to reasonable and necessary medical benefits and indemnity benefits. Employers may not be sued, but third parties such as a ship owner or a manufacturer of faulty equipment may be sued.

Who is Covered Under the LHWCA?

A maritime worker who spends less than 30% of their time in the service of a vessel in navigable waters is considered to be a longshore worker; masters and crew members are excluded. Only longshore workers who work on, near, or adjacent to navigable water are covered under the LHWCA. Most government workers are not covered. To be covered by the LHWCA, the worker must meet the status and situs tests.

What is the LHWCA Status Test?

The status test determines what jobs are included in LHWCA coverage. Some of the roles included are:

  • • waterfront crane operators
  • • terminal workers
  • • shipbuilders
  • • marine construction workers
  • • vessel repair workers
  • • shipyard employees

What is the LHWCA Situs Test?

The situs test determines what job locations are covered under the LHWCA. Injury-causing incidents must take place on, near, or adjacent to navigable waters. The general rule is that the incident must occur within a one-mile radius of navigable waters.

What Benefits Are Available Under the LHWCA?

Covered maritime workers are entitled to temporary compensation benefits of 2/3 of their average weekly wages while undergoing medical treatment subject to a maximum wages set by the Department of Labor. There is also a schedule of money awards for injuries to various body parts. Unlike state workers compensation schemes, medical treatment for injuries are for life.

There are four categories of LHWCA disability benefits: temporary total, temporary partial, permanent total, and permanent partial disabilities.

What is the Difference Between the Jones Act and the LHWCA?

The main difference is the amount of money that is allowed to be collected against the employer.  The Jones act allows a seaman to collect damages for pain and suffering, lost wages, mental anguish and disfigurement. It is a negligence remedy, enforced by filing a complaint in court. The statute of limitations is 3 years.

The LHWCA is a federal workers’ compensation law pertaining to certain maritime workers not covered by the Jones Act. It is administered by the U.S. Department of Labor. Injured maritime workers can recover medical and disability benefits under the LHWCA. The statute of limitations is 1 year.

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