Maritime law litigation is governed by a different set of rules than standard workers compensation claims follow. The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, also known as the Jones Act, is a federal statute that dictates the management of these cases. Only certain seamen are allowed to file a claim under the Jones Act, and because the statute changes the way a case is managed, these claims should only be handled by a lawyer with experience in the area.


Only qualified seamen are able to file a claim under the Jones Act. What constitutes a qualified seaman under the Jones Act was established in a prior case (Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis). A qualified seaman must be a member of a vessel’s crew, and a minimum of 30 percent of their time must be spent on a navigating vessel while working. Many Jones Act claims are disputed by employers and vessel owners using this stipulation, so the attorney may have to prove the nature of a seaman’s employment.


Qualified seamen are not able to file standard workers compensation claims under various state laws. Instead, a seaman must file a claim of negligence against an employer or vessel owner. This means that a seaman is not eligible for payments if there is no proven employer negligence. The other side is that workers compensation claims must follow a schedule of payments that can significantly reduce the amount a victim can attain. This restriction does not exist for Jones Act claims, so seamen may be eligible for much higher settlements or payouts from the employer. Like many other negligence claims, Jones Act cases are determined during a trial by jury.

In general, a qualified seaman may file a Jones Act claim against the vessel owner if the ship is not seaworthy due to improper maintenance or insufficient crew. However, there are several deviations to this rule. Vessel owners may not be held liable for injuries in these cases:

  • When unforeseen dangers of the sea cause injury
  • When a defect in stored cargo causes injury
  • When the infraction is caused by a public enemy
  • When the injury is caused while the vessel is attempting to save lives or property at sea

When a seaman is injured at sea, even if negligence is not the cause of the injury, he or she is entitled to maintenance and cure. Maintenance and cure refers to room, board, and efforts to provide convalescence to an injured seaman. Until the seaman can be transferred to a medical facility, the vessel owner must do everything possible to help the injured worker recover. Maintenance and cure is separate from Jones Act claims and must be provided even when one is not filed.

Jones Act claims are complex and closely resemble other lawsuits, like tort. This means that an attorney must have experience in more than just workers compensation claims to offer proper representation. The injured seaman should only speak with a lawyer that is experienced in cases of this type.