Jones Act – Statute of Limitations
In 1920, Congress passed a set of laws covering maritime commerce in the US. The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, also known as the Jones Act, deals with goods moved by water between US ports. Part of this Act codified the rights of seaman developed over the centuries. Since the earliest days of Colonial America, courts protected sailors from the negligence of their employers or fellow sailors. This Act brought a myriad of laws and court decisions together in a comprehensive set of regulations. The seaman has the right to sue their employer for damages caused by negligence of the captain, crew, or owner of a vessel. They can also sue due to unseaworthiness claims.
The Supreme Court brought further definition to the rights of seaman in 1995. That year brought the case of Chandris, Inc v. Latsis. In their decision, the court gave guidelines on what determined a so-called “Jones Act seaman.” The sailor must serve more than thirty percent of their time in service to an eligible vessel. The sailor may file suit at either the Federal or state levels. They also have the right of a jury trial. Sailors that work on any navigable waterway on a vessel qualify. This includes those on fishing boats, cruise ships, casino boats, tankers, charters, and even offshore drilling rigs.
The statute of limitation for most claims of negligence under the Jones Act is three years after the injury date. The most significant exception to this statute involves any vessel operated, owned, or contracted to the US government. The limitations on these claims can be shorter than for private carriers. Many workers make the mistake of filing claims under the Jones Act along with either workmen’s compensation or the Longshore-Harbor Workers’ Act. Filing under those acts can reduce the amount due under the Jones Act.
Those seamen covered by the Jones Act need to be proactive if injured in performance of their duties. Many employers will cover medical costs and personal living costs. However, if the injuries come from negligence or seaworthiness problems, the seaman deserves more compensation that that. As soon as an injury occurs, a seaman needs to contact a maritime attorney to see if they have a claim under the Jones Act. While three years seems like a long time, time passes quickly when you do not know your rights. If you mistakenly file under the wrong act, an attorney can help straighten things out.