Who is a seaman under the Jones Act?

One of the central questions in any maritime injury case is whether the injured party is a seaman, since only a seaman can recover under the Jones Act. A seaman under the Jones Act must be a member of the crew of a vessel. A seaman can also be someone who assigned to a fleet of vessels for his employer. Whether person is seaman for purposes of 46 USCS Appx ยง 688 depends largely upon facts of particular case and activity in which he was engaged at time of injury; whether person has been in past, or expects in future to be, seaman does not render maritime work which is not maritime in its nature. Desper v Starved Rock Ferry Co. (1952) 342 US 187, 96 L Ed 205, 72 S Ct 216, reh den 342 US 934, 96 L Ed 695, 72 S Ct 374

For example, those who work on tankers, freighters, jack-up rigs, semi-submersibles, towboats / tugs, supply boats, crew boats, barges, lay barges, and fishing vessels are members of the crew are considered seamen. Those who are crewmembers on movable or jack-up drilling rigs are seamen.Congress, in passing Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, limited application of term “seaman” in JonesAct to “a master or member of a crew of any vessel.” Mietla v Warner Co. (1975, ED Pa) 387 F Supp 937. The Captain, the Officers and the crew are all considered seamen. Longshoremen, pilots, and those who work on fixed platforms are not normally classified as seamen, but may have other maritime remedies available for to them for their injuries.

To be Jones Act seaman entitled to sue for negligence, as well as breach of warranty of seaworthiness, but not entitled to longshoremen’s compensation, vessel must be in navigation, there must be more or less permanent connection with ship, and worker must be aboard naturally and primarily as aid to navigation. Salgado v M. J. Rudolph Corp. (1975, CA2 NY) 514 F2d 750. Often there is a dispute as to seamen status and whether the seaman was working on a vessel when he was injured. It is therefore very important to allow the maritime attorney to study the facts surrounding the accident and the vessel to help make the determination of seaman status.

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