Jeff Bloomfield, Esquire
The Jones Act
The Jones Act
An injured employee (the “plaintiff”) in a Jones Act claim must prove the negligence or fault of their employer in order to recover. Once a plaintiff proves negligence, he or she must only show that the employer’s negligence is the cause, in whole or in part, of the injuries. In lawsuits under the Jones Act, it is sufficient that the employer’s negligence plays any part, however slight, in producing the injury. Thus, there is a reduced standard of causation between the employer’s negligence and the employee’s injury. The employer must have actual or constructive notice and opportunity to correct any unsafe condition. The courts have found negligence of an employer in failing to adequately guard against known risks of injury to its seamen. CONTACT US TODAY FOR A FREE CONSULTATION!
Under the Jones Act an employer will be deemed negligent if it fails to exercise reasonable care to maintain a reasonably safe place in which to work, reasonably safe conditions in which to work, or if it fails to provide to the Plaintiff reasonably safe and adequate tools and equipment. A seaman’s employer has a nondelegable duty to provide a reasonably safe place to work, at least when the workplace is under the control of the employer or an agent of the employer.
There are many ways a Jones Act employer can be negligent. The employer has a duty to select a competent master and crew. A co-worker’s operational negligence will support a finding of the breach of this duty. Likewise, an employer may be liable for negligent orders by supervisory personnel regarding how work should be performed. Also, employer can be liable if its equipment is unsafe.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), imposes on a covered employer a duty to provide working conditions that “are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious bodily harm” to the employees, as well as an obligation to comply with safety standards promulgated by the Secretary of Labor.
Damages recoverable under the Jones Act include loss of past and future earnings, impairment of earning capacity, medical expenses incurred and to be incurred, and other economic losses sustained or likely to be sustained. Additionally, the injured person may recover damages for the effects of the physical injuries such as pain, suffering, mental anguish, discomfort, and inconvenience. Also included as an element of damages is loss of enjoyment of life.
A lawsuit for the death of a seaman is brought by the personal representative for the benefit of certain beneficiaries set forth in the Act. Damages that can be recovered may, depending on the facts of the case, include loss of support, loss of nurture and guidance for minor children, loss of services, and pre-death pain and suffering.
Jones Act cases can be filed in federal court, either on the law side or on the admiralty side. If brought on the law side, the plaintiff can ask for a jury trial. If brought on the admiralty side, then procedure calls for a bench trial, or judge will decide.
Jones Act employers can be sued only in the district of the employer’s residence or principal office. However, a lawsuit against a corporation may be brought in any judicial district where it is incorporated or licensed to do business or in which it is doing business.
The Jones Act has a 3-year statute of limitations. This is the period of time in which a lawsuit must be filed, or the claim will be barred.
Jones Act Coverage
In many maritime cases there is a question of whether the employee is covered under the Jones Act and thus eligible to bring a tort claim against their employer. In general, the requirements for seaman status that must be met are: 1) there must be a vessel or vessels in navigation; 2) the employee’s duties must contribute to the function of the vessel, or to the accomplishment of its mission; and 3) the employee must have a connection to the vessel (or fleet of vessels) that is substantial in terms of both its duration and its nature. Contact Maritime Attorney Jeff Bloomfield for more information and your free consultation.