The Merchant Marine Act of 1920 or the Jones Act was enacted by federal legislators in order to fill the gap in employment law when it came to protecting seamen against work-related injuries. Prior to the Jones Act, a seaman was not entitled to workers’ compensation under any federal or state when they get injured even when it was caused by the employer’s negligence. One of the ways that a seaman can recover damages is if the vessel is proven to have been unseaworthy.
A maritime employer is required under the Jones Act to provide their workers with a workplace that is reasonably safe and must take ordinary care to keep the vessel in good shape. According to the website of maritime law firm Ritter & Associates, there are strict guidelines that an employer must follow in order to avoid liability for even the slightest indication of an unsafe workplace. These include but not limited to:
Under the Jones Act, the burden of proof on the plaintiff is much lighter. Under a standard personal injury case, the defendant is only help liable if their negligence is the proximate or main cause of the injury. In maritime cases invoking the Jones Act, the plaintiff merely has to prove that the defendant was at least partially responsible for the injury, no matter how slight.
When a plaintiff claims unseaworthiness of the vessel on which the injury occurred, it refers to the definition under maritime law which refers to a vessel that is not a safe place for the seaman to work. This may be due to the environment or the lack of suitable and safe equipment with which to do their work. The vessel need not be in danger of sinking or unable to set sail to be deemed unseaworthy under maritime law.
Under the Jones Act, the ship owner has the absolute and sole duty to maintain a seaworthy vessel for the safety of the crew. Failure to fulfill this duty renders the ship owner liable for a maritime injury lawsuit.