Seaman


The Jones Act provides “seaman” with a negligence based cause of action against an employer and/or fellow employee that was previously unavailable under the law.  The Jones Act provides that its remedies are available to any seaman.  Basically, “A seaman who becomes sick or injured during his service to the ship is entitled to maintenance and cure. Cooper v. Diamond M Co.,799 F.2d 176, 178-79 (5th Cir. 1986) (citations omitted).”

The Jones Act also incorporates the provisions of the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. § 51, et. seq. (FELA).   FELA provides a right of action for injured railroad workers as well as wrongful death and survival actions.

The Supreme Court – in past decisions – provided that a seaman is one who:

  1. has a connection to a vessel in navigation (or an identifiable fleet of vessels) that is substantial in both duration and nature, and
  2. contributes to the function of the vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission.

Under the Jones Act, a seaman must have the following:

  • a connection to a vessel, or an identifiable fleet of vessels, that is substantial in both duration and nature
  • need not reef and steer or otherwise contribute to the navigation or transportation functions of the vessel, but one must be doing the ship’s work

But remember, whether an individual qualifies as a seaman under the Jones Act is not always clear-cut. Some of the specific inquiries – these are only used as illustrative – that may be used in the determination of seaman status, include:

  1. Navigational duties
  2. Traditional and other support personnel
    1. An example of traditional support personnel are ships’ cooks
    2. bartenders
    3. musicians
    4. shipboard clerks
    5. pantrymen on cruise ships
    6. cleaning personnel
    7. caretakers aboard vessels “in navigation,”
    8. beauticians
    9. ferry boat workers
    10. telephone operators.
  3. Workers who are permanently assigned to work aboard oil rig service and tender vessels
  4. Traditional marine workers
    1. fishermen and divers
    2. dredge workers of all types with very minor exceptions
  5. Special purpose/offshore workers
    1. aboard to further the “mission” of special purpose vessels are considered seamen
      1. drilling personnel assigned to special-purpose drilling vessels
      2. Roughnecks
      3. roustabouts permanently assigned to vessels in navigation

Perhaps some workers may not be considered SEAMAN (depends on the facts about the case etc.)

  1. Service personnel – workers hired to repair, test, and service vessels are generally not seamen.
    1. For example, service personnel who come aboard vessels to repair, adjust, or test equipment while doing traditional seamen’s work are generally (but not always) denied seaman status because of the random and transitory nature of their work assignments.
  2. Longshore work.
    1. Not surprisingly, those who do longshore work (loading and unloading vessels) are ordinarily not seamen(case specific facts)
  3. Fixed platform workers.
    1. Since a platform is a man-made island, and not a vessel, platform workers are generally not seamen. This rule applies even where the employee lives and does some work aboard a floating tender vessel or does some temporary work aboard vessels but works primarily on a platform. In contrast, being temporarily assigned from a vessel to a platform will not extinguish seaman status.
  4. Floating casino workers.
    1. May be considered a Seaman (depending on the waters navigable non-navigable waters, jobs etc.)
      1. cocktail waitresses
      2. bartenders
      3. a change person
      4. casino security guard.

Another essential factor that you must satisfy to qualify as a “Seaman” under the Jones Act is that you must have been injured while employed on a “Vessel” in navigation.   While this seems rather straightforward, it’s actually one of the most contested and disputed factors when seeking benefits and coverage under the Jones Act.

The protections that you receive under Admiralty/Maritime Laws, however, depend almost entirely on the specific facts of the incident:

  • where the injury occurred;
  • the nature of the work that was being performed at the time of the incident; ;
  • whether the vessel was in “navigable waters”; and
  • whether the work being performed at the time of the incident constitutes a “traditional maritime activity”

Determining a workers’ rights and remedies is a complicated, fact specific inquiry that will drastically affect the types of damages that can be recovered by the worker.  For more on Jones Act injury cases, please follow this link: Jones Act & Maritime

See also maintenance and cure, seaman and unseaworthiness for more on those terms.


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At the Gooch Law Firm, we pride ourselves on providing our clients reliable representation for even the most challenging cases.

If you believe you may be a seaman and injured (e.g., been exposed to benzene and developed and injury (e.g., leukemia, acute myeloid leukemia (AML), myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and others, Kidney cancer, been exposed to asbestos and developed mesothelioma or another personal injurywhile working on a boat or vessel, contact our office at 1.800.672.4916.

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