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Who qualifies as a "seaman" under the Jones Act?

Throughout its history Louisiana has had a strong link to the ocean. New Orleans has long been one of the most important ports in the world, and many people in the state earn their living on ships and other vessels. When a maritime worker is injured on the job, they may be able to sue their employer for negligence under a federal law known as the Jones Act.

The Jones Act contains an important limitation, however. Only a "seaman" can bring a claim under the Jones Act. So just how does the law define seaman status? (It probably goes without saying that despite the statute's use of the term "seaman," a woman maritime worker has the same rights under the Jones Act as a male worker.)

The Jones Act itself does not contain a definition of the word "seaman." The U.S. Supreme Court, however, has given some guidance. According to the Court, a maritime worker must satisfy a two-part test to qualify as a Jones Act seaman. First, the worker must have contributed in some way to the operation of a ship in navigation. This can include a ship on the high seas or anchored in a port.

Second, the worker must be a member of the ship's crew, or a member of the crew of a fleet of ships, as opposed to a land-based worker who just happened to be aboard a ship when the injury occurred. The Court has stated that as a rule of thumb, a worker who spends less than 30 percent of his or her time aboard a vessel will not be considered a seaman under the Jones Act.

Proving seaman status is only the first step in a Jones Act lawsuit. The injured worker must prove negligence on the part of the employer as well as the nature and extent of his or her injuries. Working with an experienced maritime injury law firm can give the worker a significant advantage.

Source: U.S. Courts for the Ninth Circuit, "Manual of Model Civil Jury Instructions: 7. Jones Act & Other Admiralty Claims: 7.1 Seaman Status," accessed April 4, 2016

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