“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.