The Jones Act (also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920) is a legislation that protects American workers at sea and allows them to file a maritime lawsuit to claim compensation for accidents or sicknesses that occur due to their job. The federal statute oversees the maintenance of merchant ships, regulates maritime commerce, and deals with coastal shipping, also known as cabotage. The law guarantees sailors’ rights, allowing them to file claims in an attempt to collect from their employers.


There are standards that must be met for someone to be able to file a maritime lawsuit. A lawsuit can only be filed by someone who meets the Jones Act definition of a seaman. Approximately 30% of work time must be spent on a vessel and the vessel must be active in navigable waters or at the very least capable. Therefore, it is not required that the vessel is moving, and any accidents that occur while it is stationary can potentially be grounds for filing a claim. Additionally, a seaman is further defined by the type of work they do. This means that the work someone does must benefit the vessel. This can be broad but includes anyone whose work contributes to the function of the vessel. In some cases, this can even include cooks, barbers, bartenders, maids and clerks.


A maritime lawsuit could be filed for many reasons, but the most common reasons include:

  • Assault
  • Poorly maintained equipment
  • Inadequate training
  • Failure to provide maintenance and cure rights

Seamen are entitled to certain benefits if they are injured during their service time. These benefits are called maintenance and cure. Maintenance is a daily allowance, or stipend, which covers costs such as room and board. The expenses are for the duration of the illness or injury or until maximum medical improvement. Cure covers all reasonable and necessary medical expenses including treatments that are curative and palliative. A doctor will determine when maximum medical improvement has been reached, and when it does, maintenance and cure benefits end. A maritime lawsuit can be filed if an employer refuses to pay these benefits.


A maritime lawsuit won’t help if proof can’t be determined. In a case where injuries occur, many insurance companies require a report to be filed within seven days, but it should be done immediately. This is an extremely short period of time, but is absolutely crucial for filing a claim. An accident report is also required. This report must be detailed and clear because it will provide facts about the incident that can affect the outcome of a claim. Some victims find that they are not capable of filling out this report due to their injuries or medication. In either situation, it is important to consider consulting with an attorney to determine the best steps since each case is different. Even if the injury is minor, seeking medical care will help support the claim, and medical reports provide proof of the claim. There is the possibility that an employer will refuse to pay what is legally due, but an experienced lawyer can assist in these issues and ensure every seaman’s rights are met fairly.