Jones Act / Seafarers’ Rights

The work of a seaman has always been difficult and dangerous, requiring long stays away from home and exposure to the perils of the sea. The existence of the seafarer has been described as a jail with the chance of drowning.

The Jones Act was enacted in 1920 by the United States Congress to grant seamen – foreign and domestic – a cause of action against employers for negligence. The Jones Act grants seamen who suffer personal injury in the course of their employment the right to seek damages in a jury trial. Under the Jones Act the employer has a fundamental duty to provide a seaman with a reasonable safe place to work. This duty is absolute and non-delegable. See Maritime Attorney Carlos Llinás argue this issue in a recent case.

The Jones Act also provides for a claim for the failure to treat medical claims. The shipowner/employer has a duty to take all reasonable steps to provide a seaman with prompt, proper and adequate medical care.

Maintenance and Cure. Maintenance and cure’ is the policy of providing a seafarer who is disabled by injury or illness while in the service of the ship, medical care and treatment, and the means of maintaining oneself during the period of convalescence. “Maintenance” is a per diem subsistence allowance designed to provide the seaman with compensation sufficient to cover his food and lodging until the time of maximum medical improvement. “Cure” represents the cost of medical and nursing care during the seafarer’s affliction, again until the point of maximum medical improvement. This includes the cost of medical attention, including the services of physicians and nurses as well as the cost of hospitalization, medicines and medical apparatus.

A shipowner’s obligation to provide cure to an injured seafarer is an implied term of a maritime-employment contract and does not depend on any determination of fault.  Thus, an owner of a vessel is almost automatically liable for the cost of medical treatment when a seaman in its employ is injured. In other words, a seafarer is entitled to maintenance and cure even if the seafarer is unable to establish that an injury was the result of any negligence on the part of the employer or an unseaworthy condition existing on the vessel. Indeed, the cause of injury or sickness is irrelevant, and tort rules of contributory negligence, comparative fault, assumption of the risk and unseaworthiness do not apply. See recent article published by Maritime Attorney Carlos Llinás involving seafarers’ rights to maintenance and cure.

If you were injured or suffered from illness working on a vessel, contact us for a free consultation