Levy, Thompson, Sibley & Hand, LLC

The Jones Act Defense

While most benefits claims for job-related injuries are subject to state workers’ compensation statutes, federal laws provide additional remedies to employees in certain regulated industries.  One such law is the Jones Act, which applies to employees who spend a large portion of their time on a vessel at sea or over navigable waters.  With offices in Georgia and Alabama, Levy, Sibley, Foreman & Speir, LLC has significant experience representing employers and insurers in Jones Act claims.

What it Means to be a Seaman

The Jones Act allows seamen to sue their employers for job-related injuries. In order to qualify as a “seaman” under the statute, an employee must: 

  • Be a crewmember, master/captain, or other “seaman” attached to a vessel; and
  • Perform a significant portion (30% or more) of his/her job-related duties in the service of vessel in furtherance of its mission.

The vessel must also be afloat and capable of moving in navigable waters (e.g., a river, ocean, or other large body of water) – shipbuilders and employees working on dry-docked boats do not qualify under the Act. Note, however, that such employees may qualify for additional workers’ compensation benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act. For part-time workers to qualify, they must spend at least 30 percent of their time on board the vessel.

Distinguishing Benefits Under the Jones Act from Ordinary Workers’ Compensation Benefits

Unlike AlabamaGeorgia’s workers’ compensation and Longshore statutes, the Jones Act will permit the employee to collect damages upon proof of the employer’s negligence.  Jones Act claims are in addition to general maritime claims concerning the unseaworthiness of the vessel brought against the owner of the vessel (who is, in many cases, also the employer). 

Regardless of whether negligence is claimed or can be proven, the employee can still collect what is called “maintenance and cure,” which are benefits similar (but not identical) to indemnity and medical benefits under most workers’ compensation laws.  Jones Act claims are not limited to actual medical expenses and capped disability benefits.  As a result, employers of injured maritime workers may face both negligence-based claims under the Jones Act and no-fault compensation claims for state workers’ compensation.  However, the Jones Act has been ruled in certain scenarios to pre-empt workers’ compensation laws as pertaining to injuries to seaman.  Also, the LHWCA expressly excludes coverage for employees who would qualify as seamen under the Jones Act.  While a credit or offset may be available for benefits/damages paid under the wrong law, it is usually better to make a careful jurisdictional analysis prior to commencing payment to any maritime employee for a work-related injury.

It is also important to note that employers can be held liable for damages under the Jones Act for the negligence of their employees, including the claimant’s captain and fellow seamen.  This places a significant burden on the employer to conduct thorough pre- and post-employment screening and training, and to ensure that their vessels provide a reasonably safe work environment for their employees.  Our attorneys are experienced in helping maritime companies establish and implement employment policies and risk mitigation strategies – in addition to defending against Jones Act claims.

Potential Exposure for Jones Act Claims

Since damages for Jones Act claims are not limited in the same ways as workers’ compensation benefits, employers and their insurance companies must thoroughly evaluate their potential exposure and develop efficient and effective strategies for responding to threats of litigation. If you are looking for a long-term strategic partner and advisor, the attorneys of Levy, Sibley, Foreman & Speir, LLC are here to meet your needs.

With over 75 years of combined experience focused on workers’ compensation defense, we have the insight and experience to help you reduce your risk of employment-related liabilities.

Speak with One of Our Attorneys Today

At Levy, Sibley, Foreman & Speir, LLC, we pride ourselves on maintaining a demonstrated commitment to client service. This is a commitment to which there are no exceptions. When our clients need help, we answer the call. If you have questions about a workers’ compensation claim under the Jones Act, please contact us today.