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July 14, 2014 / englandponticellostclair

The Jones Act and Injured Seamen

For more than 30 years, the law firm of England Ponticello & St. Clair, a professional corporation headquartered in San Diego, California, has represented insurance companies and employers in a broad range of employment-related matters. Operating primarily in the Southern California area, England Ponticello & St. Clair’s areas of practice include California Workers’ Compensation, employment-related issued, civil litigation, serious and willful misconduct, and provisions of the Jones Act.

The Jones Act, known more formally as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 or PL 66-261, is wide-ranging legislation intended to promote and maintain the American merchant marine. One of its provisions addresses the rights of the seamen who crew those vessels. When injured, these seamen have no recourse to the workers’ compensation programs available to land-based workers. The Jones Act, however, specifically extends to seamen the same rights as are legally available to railroad workers for the recovery of damages when they are injured.

To recover damages for injuries suffered on the job, seamen must sue the employer for negligence under the Jones Act. If the seaman can prove negligence on the part of the vessel’s owner, operator, captain, and/or crew, he or she can generally recover damages.

The Jones Act requires the employer to provide a reasonably safe place to work and to maintain the vessel in a reasonably safe condition, under the circumstances surrounding operating a seagoing vessel. As such, the employer becomes liable for an array of unsafe conditions on a vessel, including oil or grease on the deck, improper training of the seaman or crew, failure to provide the proper equipment, and even assault by a co-worker, among many others.

Generally speaking, negligence cases are difficult to win because the burden of proof requires that the plaintiff prove not only negligence, but also that the negligence was the main cause of the injury. Under the Jones Act, though, the plaintiff – the injured seaman – must prove only that the employer’s negligence played any part at all in causing the injury – a much lower burden of proof.

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