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Do All Sailors Who Are Injured Qualify To Recover Damages Under The Jones Act?

Many New Orleans residents have employment connected to shipping and other ocean-based activities. When a seaman suffers a personal injury while working aboard a vessel, that seaman’s ability to recover damages is governed under the Jones Act – a federal law enacted to regulate such cases. Not everyone whose employment is connected to the sea, however, is entitled to recovery under the Jones Act.

To determine whether an individual qualifies as a seaman for purposes of the Jones Act, the U.S. Supreme Court has set forth a two-part test. The first part of this test requires a determination as to “whether the employee’s duties contributed to the function of the vessel or accomplishment of its mission.” Answering this first question is usually a fairly straightforward matter. If the employee worked on the vessel in some necessary capacity, he or she would pass this first branch of the test. If not, the employee does not qualify under the Jones Act, and no further inquiry is necessary.

When the answer to this first question is “yes,” it then must be determined “whether that employee had a connection to a vessel in navigation which was substantial both in terms of duration and nature.” This second part of the test can be more difficult to answer because opinions often differ regarding what constitutes a connection that is “substantial.”

The United States Supreme Court for the Fifth Circuit held that, to qualify as a seaman under the Jones Act, at least 30% of an individual’s time must be spent serving a vessel in navigation. While a lesser percentage of time may be justified under certain circumstances, this requirement bars employees who do not regularly serve upon ships from qualifying to recover damages under the Jones Act. As a result, individuals who are not regular crew members – even if they were aboard to perform work important to the functioning of the vessel – also do not qualify to recover damages under the Jones Act if injured.

If you have suffered an injury while working aboard a ship, we would be happy to speak with you. Please call us at 504-581-6411 or 855-GERTLER with any questions regarding your legal rights.