Saturday, June 6, 2009

Keeping Up with The Jones Act, Part 1

“The Jones Act” is a catchall term describing three laws designed to protect American merchant mariners. It is all, without a doubt, protectionist legislation and thus has been under assault for years by shipping companies, foreign governments, and their allies in the US government.

In everyday situations, the Jones Act protects merchant mariners in a variety of ways. Ship owners are required to provide their crew with a certain minimal nutrition level (3100 calories a day), rest periods, and medical care. Ship owners are required to provide medical care for any injury or illness sustained while “in the service of the vessel,” up to the point where a doctor believes the person is as “cured” as he or she is going to get.

The term “in the service of the vessel” can be tricky. One fishing boat owner and captain I know hired a deckhand, who got drunk in a bar, and was then injured as a result. Despite never having actually reported to the vessel for work, the deckhand was entitled to medical treatment for his injuries as the owner’s expense. This included a daily stipend that’s just small enough to make the injured crewman want to get back to work and make some real money, while large enough to eat up the profits and cash reserve of a single small fishing or charter boat owner in a very short time.

Seamen are not without their burdens under the Jones Act. They are considered wards of the state and thus cannot refuse to be seen by a doctor if the captain of their vessel deems it appropriate. The hiring process may also involve filling out long medical history questionnaires that would be considered intrusive, if not outright illegal, if required by most landside employers. And the coverage is not all-inclusive: tooth decay, for instance, is considered the seaman’s responsibility.

For more on Jones Act claims from the individual mariner's point of view, a good resource is the Ogletree Abbot Law Firm’s site www.shipguide.com. It’s a clear, well-organized site with everything you’d care to know about Jones Act claims. Keep in mind that the site is produced by a law firm that specializes in maritime claims, so it has a definite point of view.

2 comments:

  1. Dear Captain Rob Earle- I think it is important to point out that in the State of Texas there is a certification in the area of personal injurt trial law. I think this specialization is offered by the Texas Board of Legal Speciailzation. I went to the www.shipguide.com site and notced that none of the lawyers at that firm are Board Certified in any area. I also noticed that it says that "some cases might be referred". Do you know what that means?

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  2. Anonymous -- This is a good point. An injured mariner may have rights under state law that are in addition to or instead of his or her Jones Act rights, especially if you are sailing in a particular state's territorial waters or are considered employed in that state regardless of actual work location.

    As to the Ogletree Abbott web site, I found it to be the best one-stop source for Jones Act information from a claimants point of view. Of the firm itself, I have no information one way or another; please don't take my mentioning of them as a recommendation. I'm not an attorney and this blog sure isn't a source of legal advice. If you think you have a claim, I strongly urge you to do some hard research before picking an attorney to represent you.

    As Anonymous points out, some attorneys specialize in particular areas of law and may be "certified" in those areas. That's probably what the "some cases may be referred" is all about. I've seen similar verbiage in those ads for personal injury lawyers on TV; the guy you see in the ad probably refers some cases to other attorneys who have experience in a particular type of case, or are licensed to practice in a particular jurisdiction, or are, in Anonymous's phrase, "board certified" to handle a particular kind of case.

    In the interest of full disclosure: I'm going back and edit my original post. This blog is here to inform the general reader about maritime issues, not offer legal referrals.

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