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Maritime Law – Jones Act, Unseaworthiness, and General Maritime Law


Generally, employees that are injured on the job are entitled compensation under the state’s workers’ compensation programs. Similarly, injured shipyard workers may be entitled to relief under the Longshore and Harborworkers Compensation Act, a federal program. However, sailors operate under a different set of rules. If you are injured and work on a fishing boat, cruise ship, oil tanker, cargo barge, or ferry vessel as a mate, engineer, oiler, deckhand, steward, or other position at sea, you may be entitled to relief under one or more of the following Maritime laws:

Maintenance and Cure

Maintenance and Cure is a centuries-old obligation of the shipowner to provide medical care (“cure”) and compensation (“maintenance”) while the injured seaman is recovering from his injury.  Generally, if you qualify as a seaman and sustain an injury on or off duty, you are presumably entitled to maintenance and cure. However, there are a few exceptions to the general rule. Situations where you may not be entitled to maintenance and cure include instances where a seaman misrepresented pre-existing medical conditions, injuries sustained while intoxicated, injuries sustained because of a physical altercation that you instigated, or injuries sustained while disobeying an order. 


Jones Act Negligence

The Jones Act requires the shipowner or employer to provide safe working conditions. If a seaman is injured while working on the vessel because of the owner or employer’s negligence, the Jones Act allows the seamen to bring a claim for compensatory relief as a result of his injuries. 

Jones Act negligence requires the seaman to show that the owner or employer permitted a dangerous condition that contributed to the seaman’s injury. Some examples include injuries sustained because of a snapped belt that should have been replaced, an improperly secured hatch, cruising into questionable weather, a broken cleat, violating a Coast Guard standard, and so on.  Fortunately for seamen, Jones Act negligence has a much lower burden of proof than traditional personal injury cases. Although states vary, traditional personal injury cases require the plaintiff to show that the opposing party is 51% responsible for the injury. Jones Act negligence, however, only requires the plaintiff to show that the owner or employer was partially responsible. 


In addition to Jones Act negligence, unseaworthiness is a claim available to injured seamen under general maritime law. General maritime law requires the owner or employer to ensure that all parts of the vessel are fit for its intended use. For example, if a seaman is injured because of a flawed piece of equipment, a slippery deck, a bad shackle, a bad design of the boat or boat equipment, a malfunctioning radar that causes a collision, an understaffed, exhausted crew that results in an injury, etc.—the vessel is unseaworthy.  Unseaworthiness differs from Jones Act negligence in that it does not require owner or employer negligence—only that each part of the vessel operate like it is supposed to. Thus, an injured seaman may be entitled to compensation even though the employer or owner was not negligent. It is a very broad remedy covering most injuries sustained on a boat, barring  a few exceptions. For example, a seaman’s carelessness may bar the claim. 


The Jones Act and general maritime law is an ever-evolving, complex area of law. The definition of a “seaman” and “ship” and “navigation” are legal terms that are highly disputed. Please, when you have sustained an injury, do not agree to a settlement without consulting an experienced maritime lawyer. 

Berheim Kelley works with the best in the industry. We guarantee highly competent, empathic representation without any upfront costs to you. We only get compensated if we win. Please give us a call.

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