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The Jones Act: An Overview

On behalf of Sayer Regan & Thayer of Sayer Regan & Thayer, LLP posted on Thursday, March 23 , 2022.

By Peter Regan, Esq.
Sayer, Regan & Thayer, LLP

Rewind to about a century ago, when then-President Woodrow Wilson enacted the Jones Act, a law designed to help the U.S. shipping industry recover after the devastation of World War I (1914-1918). While important then, its full impact on national security and economic prosperity wouldn’t be felt till many decades later. The Jones Act is an integral part of maritime law even today.

The Jones Act requires that that all vessels carrying goods and materials between two U.S. points must be built, owned, and flagged in America, and crewed by Americans. Its purpose was to ensure a stable foundation in U.S. maritime industry and protect 650,000 American jobs, translating to $150 billion in economic benefits annually.

Put another way, the Jones Act is a law at the federal level that regulates and protects maritime commerce in the USA. It requires that shipped goods between ports in the U.S. be transported on ships that are built, operated and owned by U.S. citizens or permanent residents. It’s included in Section 27 of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, which advances the promotion and maintenance of the American merchant marine.

The Jones Act further boosts national security by maintaining a robust domestic maritime workforce and shipbuilding industry. Today’s private shipowners often supply the military with cargo vessels in which U.S. mariners are responsible for the transportation of military equipment and personnel overseas in times of crisis.

Opponents of the act say the Jones Act has imposed significant costs on the U.S. economy and thus want it repealed to decrease shipping costs, lower consumer prices, and put less strain on government budgets. Proponents of the act (navy yards, defense firms, shipping industries, longshoremen, port workers) say that while repeal of the law may lower shipping costs, it would reduce the number of U.S. maritime jobs. In addition, it would disrupt the vast network of ports that allow vessels to deliver food, natural resources and goods to market. And while open supply lines have certainly been important over the last 100 years, they’re even more critical now in light of the COVID-19 crisis whereby seaports can continue to bring essential goods to U.S. communities. But most importantly, the Jones Act protects seamen from injury or illness by giving them the ability to file claims under this act.

Protecting U.S. Citizens

The Jones Act offers protection under admiralty law for U.S. citizens working as seamen and who suffer injury or illness due to negligence aboard a vessel or a vessel that is not deemed seaworthy. The Jones Act offers many key provisions that benefit maritime employees. Yes, it encourages the growth of the American merchant marine but it also offers relief to injured workers in this dangerous and competitive industry to ensure they get appropriate compensation for injuries outlined in their maritime lawsuit ("Jones Act claim”). A settlement under the Jones Act is usually much larger than a standard workers' compensation claim.

Jones Act settlements can provide compensation for the following:

• Lost wages • Loss of future earning capacity • Medical care • Physical pain, disfigurement and suffering • Mental anguish • Cost of living during recovery

In contrast, claims under general workers’ compensation typically cover only the most basic medical care and some of the employee's lost earnings. The Jones Act allows seamen to file a maritime lawsuit after an injury or illness aboard a vessel due to the negligence of the vessel operator, owner, or another employee – as it is the duty of the owner to ensure a safe vessel for all.

Under the Jones Act, your rights include the right to:

• A reasonably safe work environment. • File a maritime lawsuit in an injury due to negligence. • Maintenance and cure compensation related to an illness or injury. • Additional compensation if the crew or vessel or crew has been judged unseaworthy. • Additional punitive damages if payment of maintenance and cure is refused.

The danger of working at sea as well as on-the-job injuries within the maritime industry is something federal law takes seriously, giving maritime workers strong legal rights. If you are a seaman and have been injured or become ill while working on a vessel, you could be entitled to a Jones Act claim.

Contact Sayer, Regan & Thayer LLP for Admiralty and Maritime Law

Here at Sayer, Regan and Thayer, our experienced lawyers have been active within admiralty and maritime law for more than 25 years. Call us today for your free, no-obligation case review at 866-378-5836 to learn more about the Jones Act and if you have a valid claim.

These materials have been prepared by SRT for informational purposes only and are not intended and should not be construed as legal advice.

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