Aside from the purpose of regulating maritime commerce between U.S. ports and in U.S. waters, the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, also known as the Jones Act, was also adopted by the U.S. Congress to provide for the promotion and maintenance of the American seamen, by allowing them to make claims and collect from their employers or ship owners due to their (employer’s/ship owner’s’) acts of the negligence that result to injuries or death. (In case a seaman has had a fatal accident in international waters, resulting to wrongful death that is caused by his/her employer’s negligence or a vessel’s unseaworthiness, then his/her spouse, child or any dependent family member may recover of damages based on the Death on the High Seas Act or DOHSA, a United States admiralty law enacted by the U.S. Congress.)
The Jones Act is a federal legislation that protects American seamen, who get injured or become sick while performing their duties. To recover compensation, the Act allows injured seamen to bring legal action against employers or ship owners based on claims of negligence or unseaworthiness.
A 1995 United States Supreme Court case has laid down the benchmark which will help determine the status of any worker as a “Jones Act” seaman. For purposes of the of the Jones Act, a seaman refers to any person who spends at least 30 percent of his/her employment time, (whether as a crewmember or a captain) in the service of a “vessel in navigation,” such as a boat or a ship on navigable waters. A “vessel in navigation” is a vessel that is afloat, in operation, capable of moving, and on navigable waters. This definition excludes oil drilling platforms, floating casino barges and newly built vessels which, though out at sea, are still undergoing sea trials and not in commercial operation.
Under the Jones Act, any injured seaman can file for compensation for damages that include medical care expenses, Lost wages from missing work and Emotional trauma.