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Recovering Compensation for Offshore Injuries: The Basics of the Jones Act

In 1920, the federal government passed the Merchant Marine Act, better known as the Jones Act, which is a federal statute that, among other things, provides protections for seamen who have been injured at sea. The Jones Act extends the Federal Employer’s Liability Act to include seamen in order to allow seamen injured at sea during the course of their employment to bring a personal injury action against their employer.

Prior to the passage of the law, seamen injured at sea were severely limited in their ability to bring legal action against their employer due to negligent conduct.  The Jones Act gives workers injured at offshore oil and gas drilling sites the same ability as onshore workers to recover compensation for injuries caused by negligent employers.

Who Is Covered Under the Jones Act?


The Jones Act does not cover every individual working at an offshore oil or gas site. The Act protects only “seamen” injured. While the Act does not define “seamen,” various court decisions have clarified who is covered under the Act. The Supreme Court has adopted a two-part test for the essential requirements for seaman status.

First, an employee’s duties must contribute to the function of the vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission. Second, seaman must have a connection to a vessel in navigation (or to an identifiable group of such vessels) that is substantial in terms of both its duration and its nature. Circuit courts have also clarified and adopted tests to define a seaman. For example, the Fifth Circuit court has established a general rule that a worker who performed less than 30% of his work in service of a vessel is not a seaman. This, however, is not a bright-line test, and a worker may still qualify as a seaman if one performs less than 30% of work on a vessel. Courts can look to the totality of circumstances to determine a worker’s employment status.


Is My Employer Liable for My Injuries?


In order to establish liability against an offshore employer, the employer must have been negligent and the employer’s negligence must have caused the injury or damage to the worker. An employer has a duty to use reasonable care, which is the degree of care that reasonably prudent person would use under like circumstances, to avoid injury to themselves or others. Employers of offshore workers have an even higher duty of reasonable care because offshore workers are considered wards of the court.

A worker must establish an employer’s duty and causation by providing evidence to support their claim. If a worker’s negligence is found to have contributed to the injury or damage,  then that  negligence may reduce the amount of recoverable damages.


What Compensation May I Recover for My Injuries?


If a worker is covered under the Jones Act and can establish an employer’s liability, then the injured worker is entitled to the same damages normally recoverable in any personal injury lawsuit. Examples of recoverable damages include; past and future lost wages, medical expenses, and substantial damages for pain and suffering and physical impairment.

Contact an Experienced Maritime Lawyer Today


If you believe that your employer is liable for your injuries suffered at an offshore oil or gas drilling site, an experienced Texas maritime attorney can help. At Zehl & Associates, we have a team of experienced Texas maritime attorneys who have substantial experience helping offshore workers recover compensation under the Jones Act. Contact one Zehl & Associates’ maritime lawyers today for a free consultation. You can call us at 1-888-603-3636.