Defining a Vessel Under Jones Act Law
One of the requirements for winning a Jones Act lawsuit is showing that you spent a substantial part of your employment time contributing to the operation of a vessel or vessels in navigation. But what does the Jones Act mean by a vessel in navigation? And what qualifies as a vessel under the Jones Act? In this blog post, we will dive deeper into what the definition of a vessel is under the Jones Act and why it matters for workers’ rights.
The Purpose and Importance of the Jones Act
The Merchant Marine Act of 1920 is a federal statute that was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1922. Commonly referred to as the Jones Act, it requires employers to provide a safe shipboard working environment for their employees. When they fail to do so, and an employee becomes injured in an on-the-job accident caused by the negligence of an employer or crewmember, the Jones Act gives that employee the right to seek compensation for the damages caused by their injuries by filing a Jones Act personal injury claim in federal court.
Why Does a Vessel’s Definition Matter for a Jones Act Claim?
However, to prevail in a Jones Act lawsuit, you must first be able to prove that you meet the qualifications for being a “seaman” as defined under the law. Two key qualifications used to determine seaman status are:
- The worker had an employment-related connection to a vessel or group of vessels that was substantial in terms of both duration and nature.
- The worker contributed to the mission or operation of a vessel or group of vessels in navigation.
Because of this, the definition of a vessel under the Jones Act can hold serious legal significance for maritime workers. If a worker is classified as a seaman, they are granted the right to seek compensation for injuries caused by employer or crew member negligence. They are also are entitled to maintenance and cure, covering living expenses and medical treatment during recovery.
Defining a Vessel under the Jones Act
Generally, a vessel is any watercraft or artificial contrivance used or capable of transportation on navigable waters. This includes ships, barges, tugboats, and even semi-submersible or floating work platforms. To be classified as a vessel, a watercraft must possess mobility and the ability to navigate on water. However, the determination of whether a specific watercraft qualifies as a vessel involves various factors and legal interpretations.
Mobility and Ability to Navigate: Key Features of a Vessel
A key distinguishing feature of a vessel under the Jones Act is its mobility and ability to navigate on water. In order to be considered a vessel, it should have the capability to move independently, either by its own power or by being towed.
Additionally, a vessel must possess the necessary equipment and mechanisms to navigate through water, such as propulsion systems and steering controls. Furthermore, the vessel’s ability to transport cargo, passengers, or equipment is also an important aspect of its definition. These features set vessels apart from other watercraft that may not meet the criteria of mobility and navigation.
Special Purpose Watercrafts: Are they Vessels?
Special purpose watercrafts, like dredges or construction barges, may be considered vessels depending on their characteristics and intended use. Their ability to navigate and transport personnel or equipment is crucial in determining their vessel status. Legal interpretations and specific requirements also come into play. Consulting a maritime lawyer can provide clarity on the vessel classification under the Jones Act.
What is the Role of Ownership in Defining a Vessel?
Ownership plays a significant role in defining a vessel under the Jones Act. To be considered a vessel, a watercraft must be owned or operated by a U.S. citizen or company. This requirement ensures that vessels engaged in domestic commerce are under American control and subject to relevant regulations.
Noteworthy Cases that Influenced the Vessel Definition
Several court cases have played a significant role in shaping and expanding the vessel definition under the Jones Act. One such case is Stewart v. Dutra Construction Co., where the Supreme Court established that specialized watercraft, like a dredge, can be considered vessels. Another influential case is Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, which emphasized the importance of navigability in determining vessel status. These and other notable cases have set legal precedents that impact the interpretation of the vessel definition. Understanding these cases is crucial for comprehending the complexities of the Jones Act and its applicability to different maritime scenarios.
How Does the Vessel Definition Impact Workers’ Rights?
The vessel definition has significant implications for workers’ rights under the Jones Act. Understanding whether a maritime worker qualifies as a seaman on a qualified vessel is crucial for determining eligibility for compensation and legal protections. Navigating the complexities of vessel classification is essential to ensure workers receive their rightful rights.
Get Help from Experienced Jones Act Lawyers in Louisiana
Knowing if your maritime injury is covered by the Jones Act can make a significant difference in obtaining compensation and support. If you have been injured while working on a vessel or in a maritime capacity, it is important to consult with an experienced maritime attorney to understand your rights and options.
Lewis, Kullman, Sterbcow & Abramson, LLC is considered to be one of the finest maritime and admiralty law litigation firms in the country. Our maritime accident lawyers have played a crucial role in many of the most important maritime cases in the last 40 years – including those that define the requirements for a person and a vessel to be governed by the Jones Act.
Call 504-588-1500 to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced Jones Act lawyers in Louisiana.