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Filing a personal injury claim under the Jones Act

Working on a cruise ship provides you with opportunities to go places and see things on the job that many people only dream about. In spite of its location on the water, your work environment includes many of the same hazards employees face on land.

Workers' compensation laws do not apply at sea, so what do you do if you sustain an injury on a cruise ship? Nearly a century ago, lawmakers created and passed the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, or the Jones Act, to help answer this question.

What is the Jones Act?

This law enables certain maritime employees to file a personal injury claim against their employer in a federal or state court to receive compensation for their injuries. To qualify, you must spend at least 30 percent of your time at work on a vessel on navigable waters, operational and capable of movement. If the cruise ship where you work docks, the law still considers it a vessel in navigation. 

When is an injury covered by the Jones Act?

To win a Jones Act claim, you must prove your injury occurred because your employer was negligent and failed to provide you with a safe work environment. Contributors to an unsafe work environment under your employer's control include the following:

  • Improperly trained employees
  • Poorly maintained equipment
  • Lack of proper equipment
  • Unsuitable employees, such as those with a background of violence or inexperience on the job

Conditions such as slippery surfaces and other fall hazards may also indicate negligence. Even if you were partly at fault for the accident that caused your injury, as long as your employer's actions also played a role, a judge may rule in your favor.

How do you file a Jones Act claim?

As with a workers' compensation claim, you need to let your employer know about the injury right away. You have a seven-day deadline if you want to file a Jones Act claim. Fill out an official accident report, and include details about who is at fault. Naturally, you need to seek medical treatment, both so you can recover as quickly as possible and so you have medical records to back your claim. Your employer may offer to settle, or you may have to take your case to court. Either way, you may receive adequate compensation for the damages you suffer.

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