The History of the Jones Act

Scurvy, pestilence and death: such calamities marred many an early shipboard experience. Before the 20th century, conditions for working and living on board a vessel were less than optimal, and seamen who toiled in substandard settings had no legal protection. The 1920 passage of the Jones Act changed all that. The regulations it imposed on the shipping of passengers and goods between coastal ports on U.S. waters offered some recourse. Today, qualified seamen who feel they have just cause, have the right to hire a Jones Act attorney or offshore injury lawyer and sue the ship’s owner, captain or any crew member for negligence. Under some conditions, the act also provides recourse for workers who are harmed or killed by unsafe conditions on a movable oil rig, barge or drill ship. The key word here is “movable.” Exceptions abound, and crew members in need of advice should consult an oil rig accident attorney to learn of their rights in such cases. To qualify for protection under the Jones Act, a seaman must spend a full 30 percent of their time on a vessel at sea. In addition to protecting mariners, the Jones Act requires that any ship used in U.S. coastal shipping be:

  • Made in the U.S.A.
  • Owned by U.S. citizens
  • Flying the U.S. flag

Further, U.S. citizens or permanent residents must comprise at least 75 percent of the crew on such a ship, and no fewer than 90 percent of its repairs must take place on U.S. soil. Maritime law can be complicated. Fortunately, qualified maritime attorneys are available to help anyone in need of legal advice concerning their rights under the Jones Act.