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Defining a Jones Act Employee
Have you suffered an injury at work and want to know whether you are eligible for compensation under the Jones Act? The Jones Act offers protection to all "seamen," but does not offer a definition of the term. As a result, there is not good, clear guidance about what constitutes a "seaman" for the purposes of the Jones Act and who is covered.
This page will run down some of the more important issues about who is covered by the Jones Act, but it cannot tell you whether you are covered by it. Instead, the best way to determine whether your injury is covered by the Jones Act is to talk to a maritime lawyer like those at Long & Waite, P.C. to discuss the details of your employment.
Seaman: A "Term of Art"
Seaman is a term that is used by the Jones Act, but is not defined in the Jones Act or elsewhere in the United States Code, so its usage is subject to some interpretation. It is considered to be taken at its established meaning. By the time the Jones Act was first passed in 1920, the term had gone through a number of redefinitions, but it was not until long after the Jones Act that something like a good definition would be determined.
Master or Member of a Crew
In the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA), Congress provided for compensation to many types of employees related to maritime work, excluding anyone who is "a master or member of a crew of any vessel." Eventually, the Supreme Court would interpret the LHWCA and the Jones Act as being mutually exclusive--any person covered by one act was not covered by the other. By doing so, the Supreme Court established a test for Jones Act employees: they must be "a master or member of a crew of any vessel."
The courts have further established guidelines for who is considered to be a member of a crew. To be considered a member of a crew, a person should contribute to the vessel's function and have a more or less permanent assignment to a vessel or a number of vessels. Sometimes the 30% standard is applied: a person must spend no less than 30% of his or her employment hours on ships to be considered so assigned. This has historically included:
- Carpenters & metalworkers
- Cabin & kitchen boys
- Deck hands
- Waiters & bartenders
- Oil rig workers
And some allowance has been built into the interpretation to include the constantly-changing makeup of ships' crews as the technology and purpose of maritime work changes.
A "vessel" is defined in the US Code and includes "every description of watercraft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water." This includes all manner of boats and personal watercraft, but also barges, floats, and rafts incapable of self-propulsion. It also includes floating platforms, like floating cranes or semi-submersible drilling rigs, but excludes fixed platforms.
Free Case Evaluation
Have you suffered a maritime injury and are unsure whether you are covered under the Jones Act or possibly the LHWCA? The maritime lawyers at Long & Waite, P.C. in Mobile can help. Please contact us for a free consultation today.