The Jones Act is an extremely important law for anyone who works on the sea. It allows people who work as seamen and are injured on the job to have a trial by jury to sue for damages. It’s very similar to the same rights that railroad workers have. However, not everyone that works on the sea is classified as a seaman by the law.
According to a Supreme Court decision in 1995, a worker has to be out on the sea more than 30% of the time to be classified as a seaman. This means that many people who work on the docks and face many of the same dangers do not get the benefits of the Jones Act.
This issue may be taken up again by the Supreme Court soon. In 2008, a worker sued his employer after getting silicosis from sandblasting vessels. The fine sand got into his lungs and caused him to lose his job. His employer claimed that he didn’t qualify for Jones Act protections since he spent most of his time on the docks. In 2012, the worker died and his widow is now trying to take the case to the Supreme Court.
The worker did spend time out on the sea. When he wasn’t doing dock duties, he was taking pilots out to commercial vessels so local pilots could drive the boats out of Chesapeake Bay. The question is whether his boat maintenance work counts as being out on the sea.
Courts around the country are split about whether dock work counts as being out on the sea for the purposes of the Jones Act. The justices are scheduled to discuss whether to take the case or not. Resolving this issue in favor of the workers could open many companies to lawsuits.