Jones Act Jargon: Key Words and Phrases That May Affect Your Coverage
Those who work at sea face dangers that don’t apply to other workers. Violent storms, slippery decks, and minimal access to medical care are among the many hazards of a job on the high seas.
Because of the increased perils of the job, the federal government created the Jones Act to protect seafaring maritime workers. The Jones Act is a federal law that provides compensatory options for seamen who injured themselves while aboard a seagoing vessel.
Unfortunately, when being used to determine compensation eligibility, the Jones Act is subject to interpretation.
Any seaman who works in the service of a vessel on a navigable waterway may be entitled to compensation—that is, as long as he can prove “seaman status” and the “navigable waters” eligibility of the vessel upon which he is working.
Since the inception of the law, judges and juries have floundered over the exact requirements for maritime workers to claim “seaman” status, and therefore Jones Act eligibility.
Generally, two conditions must exist for an individual to be considered a seaman under the Jones Act:
- The individual must directly contribute to maintaining the vessel’s functionality or to the success of its mission.
- The individual must spend more than 30 percent of his working time aboard a ship that sails on navigable waters.
Navigable waters are waterways used for business or transportation, and are under the control of the federal government. The government is in charge of deciding how the waters are used, who is going to use them, and under what conditions.
Courts will sometimes have difficulty determining whether certain bodies of water are considered “navigable.” However, if your injury occurred while working in or on a large body of water, there’s a very good chance those waters are considered navigable.
In 1979, the U.S. Supreme Court established four test questions to help courts determine whether a body of water qualifies as navigable waters. Furthermore, According to the Code of Federal Regulations, “a determination of navigability, once made, applies laterally over the entire surface of the waterbody, and is not extinguished by later actions or events which [may negate its navigable status].” In other words, once a body of water has been declared as navigable, the entirety of that body is eligible for navigable status. The Supreme Court navigability tests include:
- Is the body of water subject to the ebb and flow of the tide? The body of water must be large enough to have its own tide, or be connected to another waterway such that its current can and is affected by the changing tide, to aid in commercial transportation.
- Does the body of water connect with a continuous interstate waterway? The body of water in question must have direct access to a waterway within the United States that can be used as a commercial highway to transport maritime commerce.
- Does the body of water have navigable capacity? Ships must be able to easily maneuver and navigate through the area of water under investigation.
- Is the body of water actually navigable? The body of water must be established as an area in which boats, ships, or barges not only can maneuver but have been known to do so.
Interpreting the Law to Secure Your Claim
If you are unsure of your claim’s validity under the Jones Act, or if you’re encountering some difficulties with your Jones Act claim, you need to speak with a maritime attorney. The law in these cases is far from straightforward, and can easily sail off-course. In fact, eligibility can vary greatly from case to case.
Therefore, if you’ve been injured in a maritime or offshore accident, you should contact our office immediately to speak with an experienced lawyer. Attorney Steve Lee will help you learn more about your eligibility status, legal rights, and options for compensation. Don’t allow waves of confusion and misconception to capsize your claim before it even leaves the dock. Call us today at 713-921-4171 to secure smooth sailing.
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