A maritime attorney spends much of their time representing seamen, longshoremen, and various professionals involved in the construction, navigation and decommissioning of water-going vessels. Those who work on or near water are protected under a pair of federal statutes that provide additional protection. Knowledge of these statutes, specifically The Merchant Marine Act of 1920 and The Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act (LHWCA), is essential to executing a successful claim.


In general, state workers’ compensation programs do not provide benefits to seamen who qualify through the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, also known as The Jones Act, and may not provide benefits to workers who qualify for LHWCA benefits. And in the states that do allow LHWCA-eligible workers to pursue workers’ compensation, workers may not receive benefits from both programs. This effectively makes workers’ compensation a secondary priority, as its benefits are typically inferior to LHWCA benefits.

In fact, one of the injury lawyer’s primary goals will be to prove the victim is qualified through the Jones Act or LHWCA. To qualify for The Jones Act, a seaman has to spend at least 30 percent of their working time on a navigating vessel. An employer will likely contest a victim’s work history aggressively to avoid liability under the Jones Act, so a lawyer will work diligently to recover work records and witness testimony, and verify the 30 percent benchmark.

LHWCA qualification is a bit different. As long as the injury victim’s work has something to do with the water or marine industry, and as long as the victim works within a mile of navigable waters, they will qualify. However, this means that the victim must perform duties relevant to ship loading or unloading, ship construction, ship repair, or ship breaking. So, for example, a worker who unloads cargo from a dock will qualify, but a secretary working in an office along the dock will not.


The Jones Act provides two major benefits to hurt seamen. These benefits include:

  • The right to sue an employer for negligence, without limits imposed by workers’ compensation or similar programs.
  • The right to maintenance and cure. Maintenance and cure is compensation paid to a hurt worker until they are transferred to a medical facility and have reached maximal recovery. It covers room and board, and medical expenses, among other things.

Proving liability under The Jones Act is typically much easier than other injury claims, so seamen generally have a higher rate of attaining compensation for injury.

The LHWCA allows qualified workers to secure temporary or permanent, partial or total disability benefits, entitling them to compensation for all medical costs, and they can also typically receive reimbursement for travel expenses incurred while in transit to medical facilities. Also, the LHWCA pays 66 percent of the injured worker’s weekly wages, while workers’ compensation places a cap on 60 percent of weekly wages.

The law in this area may be a bit more complicated, but it is to the victim’s benefit if they know how to take advantage of federal regulations.