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Who Is a Jones Act Seaman?

Because the Jones Act provides special protections and damages for injured seamen, many injured people wonder whether they qualify as a “seaman” under the Jones Act. That determination should be made by a competent maritime attorney because the law controlling seaman status can vary slightly based on where the accident happened and where the lawsuit is filed. In general, however, a Jones Act seaman is a person who spends a significant amount of time working as a crewmember or captain on a vessel “in navigation.”

For a vessel to be “in navigation” the vessel has to be afloat, in operation, capable of moving, and on navigable waters. Navigable waters include the world’s oceans, seas, and any river or body of water that presently or in the past has been used or is susceptible for use in interstate or foreign commerce. As a practical matter, major rivers in the United States are considered navigable waters for the purposes of the Jones Act. The vessel does not actually have to be moving or at sea for the person to qualify as a seaman, but it cannot be in dry dock or on blocks at the time of the person’s injury.

Additionally, in order to be a seaman under the Jones Act, a person must “contribute to the work of the vessel.” Any crewmember or captain of a vessel can normally meet this requirement without any difficulty. This requirement eliminates Jones Act protections for people injured while pleasure boating or while passengers on a cruise.

Last, in order to be a Jones Act seaman, a person must spend a “significant amount of time” aboard a vessel in navigation. As a general rule, a person qualifies as a seaman if they spend at least 30% of their working time aboard a specific vessel or a fleet of vessels. A person does not have to spend 30% of their working time on the specific vessel that they are injured. However, the total combined time spent on vessels in navigation should meet or exceed 30% of the person’s working time to qualify as a Jones Act seaman.

Each maritime injury is unique, and any person involved in a maritime accident should contact an experienced admiralty attorney to help determine whether they are entitled to the protections of the Jones Act. Contact an attorney at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner by calling 713-396-3964 or toll free at 800-594-4884 for your free consultation today.

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