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What is the Jones Act and how does it affect you?

If you work in the maritime industry in any capacity, you are likely impacted by the Jones Act. Put into place shortly after the First World War, it is a sometimes controversial act governing how goods can be transported between U.S. ports. It began in 1920 and takes its name from Wesley Jones, the senator responsible for it. From Washington, he believed it would help those who he represented.

What it does

In short, the Jones Act makes it so that Americans are solely responsible for shipping that begins and ends at a U.S. port. The ships need to be operated by either permanent residents or U.S. citizens. They also have to be built and owned by Americans. The goal of the Act was to help the shipping industry and keep money in America, though it is controversial because it can increase the costs of doing so.

Expanding rights for workers

The Jones Act also addresses injuries in this industry, which do not always happen within one state’s borders. Therefore, it can be hard to define the rights workers have to seek compensation and the steps they should take to do so.

Under the Jones Act, sailors who get hurt have the right to seek damages to cover the costs of that injury, much as workers do on U.S. soil. They can seek this compensation from the ship’s owner, the captain of the ship or even the crew. It all depends on the situation at hand, of course.

Why expand the rights this far? The Act gives people more flexibility to adjust their lawsuits based on who they believe was at fault. If a captain’s error led to the injury, the captain may be sued. If the captain did everything right but was giving a faulty ship by the owner, they can be sued. There are many cases where multiple parties may be liable.

Understanding your options

Now that you know how the Jones Act works, if you’re interested in digging into your options following an injury, make sure you know what steps to take.