Jones Act Law: What You Need to Know

Jones Act Law, also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, is a federal law that regulates maritime commerce in the United States. The Jones Act has two main purposes: to protect the rights of seamen who are injured or killed on the job and to support the development and maintenance of a U.S. merchant marine.


What is the Jones Act Law?

The Jones Act Law requires that any cargo shipped between U.S. ports must be carried by U.S. ships, with American crews, and registered in the United States. It also provides protection for the crew members and the environment in case of accidents or injuries.

The law was enacted after World War I, when the U.S. fleet was destroyed by Germany, as a measure to support and protect the strategically important shipping industry. It also serves as a deterrent against foreign threats and a source of military auxiliary during times of war or national emergency.

What are the benefits of the Jones Act Law?

The Jones Act Law supports 478,440 American jobs in the maritime industry, ranging from shipbuilders, sailors, port workers, truck drivers, and others. These jobs are typically high-paying, with an average yearly salary of $80,000.

The law also produces $100 billion in economic output for the U.S. annually. It contributes to the domestic supply chain, ensuring reliable and secure delivery of goods and services across the country.

The law also enhances national security and homeland security by maintaining a strong naval presence and a ready reserve of ships and mariners that can assist in times of need. For example, American vessels participated in the largest boatlift in history after 9/11, transporting half a million people off Manhattan in only 9 hours. American ships also served in relief efforts after natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti earthquake.

What are the challenges of the Jones Act Law?

The Jones Act Law has been criticized for being outdated and protectionist, imposing high costs and inefficiencies on consumers and businesses. Some of the challenges include:

  • The law limits competition and choice in the domestic shipping market, leading to higher prices and lower quality of service. For example, it costs more to ship oil from Texas to New York than from Saudi Arabia to New York.
  • The law restricts foreign trade and investment opportunities, especially with neighboring countries such as Canada and Mexico. For example, it prevents Canadian liquefied natural gas from being shipped to Puerto Rico or Hawaii.
  • The law hampers innovation and modernization in the maritime industry, as U.S.-built ships are more expensive and less efficient than foreign-built ships. For example, there are only 99 oceangoing ships that qualify under the Jones Act Law, compared to over 40,000 in the world.

How does the Jones Act Law affect cruise travel?

The Jones Act Law does not directly apply to passenger vessels, but a related law called the Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA) of 1886 does. The PVSA requires that any itinerary that begins and ends in a U.S. port must include a foreign port of call if the cruise ship is foreign-flagged.

This means that most cruise ships cannot sail between two U.S. ports without visiting another country, such as Mexico or Canada. This limits the options and flexibility for cruise travelers who want to explore different regions of the U.S., such as Alaska, Hawaii, or New England.

There are some exceptions to this rule, such as U.S.-flagged cruise ships (e.g., Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America), or round-trip cruises that include a distant foreign port (e.g., Vancouver for Alaska cruises). However, these options are rare and often more expensive than foreign-flagged cruises.

The Jones Act and Seamen’s Rights

The Jones Act extends the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA) to seamen, which means that they can sue their employers for negligence if they suffer an injury or death while working on a vessel. The Jones Act also allows seamen to claim maintenance and cure, which are payments for living expenses and medical care until they recover from their injuries.

To qualify as a seaman under the Jones Act, a worker must have a substantial connection to a vessel or fleet of vessels that are engaged in navigation. The worker must also contribute to the mission or function of the vessel. The definition of a vessel is broad and can include ships, barges, tugboats, fishing boats, cruise ships, and even some offshore oil rigs.

A seaman who files a lawsuit under the Jones Act must prove that their employer was negligent and that the negligence caused or contributed to their injury or death. Negligence can include failing to provide a safe work environment, adequate training, proper equipment, or reasonable care. The employer can defend themselves by arguing that the seaman was partly or wholly at fault for their own injury or death, which can reduce or eliminate the amount of damages awarded.

The damages that a seaman can recover under the Jones Act include past and future lost wages, medical expenses, pain and suffering, disfigurement, loss of enjoyment of life, and punitive damages in some cases. The amount of damages depends on the severity of the injury or death, the impact on the seaman’s quality of life, and the degree of fault of both parties.

The Jones Act and Maritime Commerce

The Jones Act also regulates maritime commerce in the United States by requiring that goods shipped between U.S. ports be transported on ships that are built, owned, and operated by U.S. citizens or permanent residents. This provision is known as cabotage and is intended to promote the U.S. shipping industry and national security.

The Jones Act applies to any cargo that travels by water between two U.S. ports, even if it stops at a foreign port along the way. The Jones Act also applies to passengers who travel by water between two U.S. ports. The only exceptions are vessels that are engaged in trade with neighboring countries (such as Canada and Mexico), vessels that are in distress or need repairs, and vessels that are owned by the U.S. government.

The benefits of the Jones Act for the U.S. include supporting 650,000 American jobs, generating $150 billion in economic activity each year, enhancing national security by ensuring a reliable domestic fleet and crew, and protecting the environment by enforcing high safety and environmental standards.

Jones Act Law

The costs of the Jones Act for the U.S. include increasing the price of shipping goods between U.S. ports, reducing competition and innovation in the shipping industry, creating barriers to trade with foreign countries, and imposing burdens on non-continental U.S. lands (such as Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico, and Guam) that rely heavily on imports.

The Jones Act has been subject to controversy and debate for decades, with proponents arguing that it is essential for national security and economic growth, and opponents arguing that it is outdated and harmful for consumers and businesses. The Jones Act has also been waived temporarily in some situations, such as natural disasters or national emergencies, to allow foreign ships to deliver relief supplies or fuel to affected areas.

In, conclusion, The Jones Act Law is a century-old law that has shaped the U.S. maritime industry for better or worse. It has both benefits and challenges for the economy, national security, and cruise travel. Whether it needs reform or repeal is a matter of debate among policymakers, stakeholders, and consumers.

The Jones Act is a complex and important law that affects both seamen’s rights and maritime commerce in the United States. The Jones Act provides seamen with legal remedies if they are injured or killed on the job due to their employer’s negligence. The Jones Act also requires goods shipped between U.S. ports to be carried by U.S.-flagged ships with American crews. The Jones Act has both benefits and costs for the U.S., depending on how one views its impact on national security, economic activity, trade policy, consumer prices, and regional development.

FREQUENTLY asked questions – Jones Act Law

What are the types of damages that can be recovered under the Jones Act Law?

there are three main types of damages that can be recovered under the Jones Act Law:

  • Lost earnings and lost earning capacity: This refers to the income and benefits that the injured seaman has lost or will lose as a result of the injury. It also includes any future promotions or opportunities that the seaman is likely to miss because of the injury.
  • Medical expenses: This covers the past, present, and future costs of medical treatment, such as surgery, hospitalization, medication, therapy, and supplies.
  • Pain, suffering, and mental anguish: This compensates the seaman for the physical and emotional distress caused by the injury. It may include factors such as disfigurement, disability, loss of enjoyment of life, and loss of companionship.

These are the general categories of damages available under the Jones Act Law. The exact amount and type of damages that a seaman can claim may vary depending on the circumstances of each case.

How do I file a Jones Act claim and what are the deadlines?

the process and the deadlines for filing a Jones Act claim are as follows:

  • Report the injury: You must report your injury to your captain, employer, or senior officer as soon as possible. The federal regulations give you a seven-day window to report a work-related injury for Jones Act claims, but it is best to do it immediately.
  • Seek medical attention: You have the right to seek medical attention from a doctor of your choice. You should not rely on the ship’s doctor or your employer’s recommendations. You should also keep records of your diagnosis, treatment, and expenses.
  • Gather evidence: You should collect and preserve any evidence that can support your claim, such as witness statements, accident reports, photographs, videos, logbooks, maintenance records, etc. You should also document your symptoms, pain levels, and daily activities.
  • Consult a lawyer: You should consult a lawyer who specializes in Jones Act cases as soon as possible. A lawyer can help you understand your rights, evaluate your case, negotiate with your employer and their insurance company, and file a lawsuit if necessary.
  • File a lawsuit: You have the right to file a lawsuit against your employer or the vessel owner if they were negligent or the vessel was unseaworthy. You must file your lawsuit within three years from the date of your injury. This is the statute of limitations for Jones Act claims. However, there may be some exceptions that can extend or shorten this deadline depending on the circumstances of your case.

These are the general steps and deadlines for filing a Jones Act claim. However, every case is different and may involve specific legal issues and challenges.

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