Seamen who are injured in the course of their employment in an incident caused by the negligence of their employer could file lawsuits against the employers seeking compensation under the federal Jones Act. However, those who are from Washington need to know the requirements that must be met for such a case.
The first thing that the seamen must demonstrate is that their injuries occurred on a navigable vessel. The U.S. Supreme Court defines the term “vessel” as any watercraft or man-made contraption that is or can be used for water transportation. For example, a submersible oil rig is considered a vessel, while a fixed oil rig is not because it does not allow for transport over water.
The second requirement that seamen must demonstrate is that they were seamen when their injuries occurred. There is no fixed definition for the term “seaman,” so courts decide this issue in each case after assessing the employee’s duties and how much time the plaintiff spent on the vessel when making a determination. However, the general guideline is that a seaman has to help with the operation or mission fulfillment of the vessel.
Based on this guideline, dockworkers have been ruled out as seamen, even when their injuries happened on vessels. This is because the court has determined that they only load and unload cargo or equipment rather than perform primary work on vessels. Similarly, employees who perform a majority of their jobs on land are also generally denied Jones Act protection when they are injured on temporary vessel assignment or during transport.
Injured workers who are unsure of whether the courts will determine that they qualify for Jones Act status could talk to an attorney to see if they are covered. If so, a subsequent lawsuit could seek compensation for lost wages and past and future medical costs.
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