If you work as a seaman or you know someone in that occupation, you probably know about The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, commonly referred to as the Jones Act. This federal law establishes rights for seamen injured during the course of employment to hold their employers liable for injuries, including negligence in care after an injury.
You may wonder what the law obligates your employer to do in the event you become injured while on a vessel. Depending on the circumstances, your employer might neglect to provide care to you when you need it.
Obligations at the time of injury
An article in WorkBoat describes some situations in which an employer is responsible for your care. If you become ill or suffer an injury while engaged in service on a vessel, your employer must give you medical care. This care must happen in a timely manner and it must be reasonable given what has happened to you.
If your vessel is at sea, your employer should have medical equipment ready to treat an injury or illness until the vessel can return to port. If the vessel is already docked, your captain or other crew members should phone 911 if you become seriously ill or hurt.
Some situations do not count as negligence
However, the Jones Act does not hold sea vessel employers accountable for all acts of negligence. The WorkBoat article describes a 2018 lawsuit in which a seaman suffered a permanent disability from a stroke while on a docked vessel. The captain called 911. Paramedics arrived to bring the seaman to the hospital. However, the hospital misdiagnosed the seaman’s condition, which led to his disability.
While the seaman sued the vessel employer, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the vessel captain was not negligent and had sought the best avenue of care for the seaman. Also, the captain was not responsible for the hospital’s actions because the hospital was an independent third party that selected the care for the seaman.
Obligations will depend on the situation
The Jones Act may offer you legal protection if you suffer an injury or illness and do not receive reasonable and timely care from the vessel’s captain and crew. However, it is not guaranteed. Circumstances can vary, and you may have to hold a different party responsible in the event you suffer health problems because of the negligence of care.