Trouble on the High Seas: What Cruise Ship Workers Need to Know

After World War II, the Jones Act legislation was established. Its purpose was to provide seaman rights to workers on the high seas that were comparable to those of railway workers of that era. It is still in effect today, even though it has been under significant criticism. This act ensures cruise ship workers are afforded the same rights as workers on industrial cargo vessels. Officially titled, The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, it is commonly called The Jones Act after the Congressional representative who introduced the legislation.

Requirements of the Jones Act

The Jones Act sets operational standards for all ships transporting cargo and people within the territorial waters of the United States. Identification of all vessels must be provided by displaying the United States flag in plain view, and all other vessels must receive authority to operate within the borders. The United States Coast Guard can allow friendly transporting in some situations, but all transportation authorization requires valid identification. Additionally, all vessels operating regularly in United States waters must meet the following criteria:

  • Shipping vessels constructed of United States steel
  • Built by United States ship manufacturers
  • Employed with United States citizen labor
  • Employees of all shipping vessel crews must be at least three-fourths American citizens and the remainder must be authorized to work in the United States.

Seaman Rights Under the Jones Act

Typical workers’ compensation legislation pertains to employment relationships in land-based operations. Worker’s compensation insurance coverage applies to those injured on United States soil and is established by state legislation. The Jones Act is federal legislation that provides legal rights to seamen that are not offered to land-based workers injured on the job. Injured workers with Jones Act standing can actually take their employer to court for negligence in the event of a work-related injury, which can be significant when employers fail to meet the safety standards required in the workplace. The isolated status of high-seas employment can entice a company to be non-compliant with safety rules because of the difficulty in oversight and inspection.

Maintenance and Cure Under The Jones Act

The compensation addressed in this act is termed maintenance and cure. Maintenance means that the transportation company should continue to pay the employee while said employee is rehabilitating from the injury. Additionally, employee must be returned to best possible repair level with respect to the prognosis of the injury. The injured employee must be able to work in a capacity earning the same amount of income, or more, after the injury improves acceptably. This can easily result in long-term disability, possibly qualifying an injured employee for all retirement benefits applicable. The possibility of a huge punitive jury award is always present with the right to trial, as typical land-based worker’s compensation is legally restricted from this capacity.
Qualifying as a seaman under The Jones Act requires the petitioner to document or verify that they spend in excess of 30% of their employment time on the high seas. Dock workers can have difficulty establishing this qualification. A maritime law firm or attorneys skilled in their knowledge of the Jones Act will understand how to build a case for maximum award, and those who are borderline could receive a higher settlement with a solid representative who utilizes this bargaining perspective of possible seaman qualification. Shippers tend to fight Jones Act claims vigorously in an attempt to avoid the possibility of a jury trial. This can be an effective tool in negotiating a good case settlement, which is predominantly how these cases are finally adjudicated.

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Seamen, cruise ship workers, and other industrial employees have countless high seas adventures to look forward to. However, it is comforting to know that there are adequate laws in place to protect employees and workers with careers off shore.

Jamica Bell is a freelance writer and contributes this article as an informative tool for seamen and off-shore workers. Doyle Raizner LLP trial lawyers are a maritime law firm dedicated to defending the rights of seamen, cruise ship personnel, and offshore workers. Whether clients have been injured on international and foreign seas or United States water ways, Doyle Raizner believes every case they litigate is important and of great value.

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