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Company Challenges Jones Act Seaman Status To Defeat Claim


Seamen have special protections under the Jones Act to file lawsuits against employers. Further, they have maintenance and cure rights that tend to exceed worker’s compensation benefits granted in their home states. For that reason, the what constitutes a “seaman” for these unique maritime protections is important. The courts have begun applying a new test to determine seaman status for the purpose of these lawsuits.

In this article, we’ll discuss the new standard and how it is employed.

The old standard versus the new standard

 Prior to the latest ruling, a seaman only had to establish that their duties contributed to the functioning of the ship and that they had a connection to the vessel or a fleet of vessels that was substantial in both duration and nature. However, this left much up to the interpretation of the individual courts.

The courts have recently instituted a clearer standard that demands that the individual actually be subjected to the perils of the sea. The courts must now ask whether the seaman owes his allegiance to the vessel or a shoreside employer. They must determine whether or not the individual’s work subjects them to the perils of the sea. Does the individual’s work require them to sail with the vessel? Or do they perform some task and then the vessel sails off?

The case 

The case involved a tort filed by a remotely operated vehicle operator who had worked as a contractor aboard the same ship for over a decade. The court determined that the contractor employed the plaintiff, not the vessel. In terms of employment, there are very specific criteria that need to be met. In this case, a determination was made that the individual worked for a contracting company that was hired by the vessel. Lastly, the plaintiff was never assigned to work a specific vessel alone. Instead, he was contracted to service many vessels.

What does this mean?

 It means that seamen will have to meet certain thresholds in order to file claims under The Jones Act. Otherwise, their lawsuits will be funneled through workers’ compensation or, depending on the state, tort lawsuits against their employers. Just because you work at sea, it does not mean that you qualify for protection under The Jones Act or the general maritime law of the United States. You must show a substantial employer/employee relationship with the owner of a single ship or a fleet of ships that are all owned by the same company. In this case, the worker had a shoreside employer and hence his claim under The Jones Act was barred by the prevailing standard being used now in the courts.

Talk to a Miami Maritime Lawyer Today 

Miami admiralty & maritime lawyer Michael F. Guilford files lawsuits under The Jones Act. If you are a seaman, were injured aboard a vessel, or otherwise need a maritime attorney, call us today and we can begin discussing your options immediately.



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