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Maritime Law: The Case of the Sea Captain Thrown Belowdeck

“All hands on deck!” also includes the Captain. And sometimes it is the Captain on the deck that gets injured.

In a case filed in a U.S. district court in the Southern District of Texas, a Louisiana sea captain claims he was injured when a rope being used to lower certain equipment broke and caused him to fall down the stairs, landing on equipment in the engine room belowdeck. Then when he tried to continue working he slipped and fell on the slippery deck, reports the Southeast Texas Record. The ship on which the alleged injury occurred was an M/V Dorado. Here is one flying the Latvian flag parked in Iceland.

Although this looks like a standard worker’s compensation issue, since it occurred on a ship, which raises issues of maritime time, the claim has been filed under the Jones Act.

What is the Jones Act?

The Jones Act provides benefits to seamen who are injured or killed through the negligence of their employers, states FindLaw's KnowledgeBase. To be covered by the Jones Act, a worker must be in the services of the vessel and his employer's negligence must cause the injury or death.

The Jones Act is a federal law passed by the United States Congress in 1920. It only applies to seamen (and seawomen). Generally, to qualify for seaman status a worker must:

  • be employed upon a vessel in navigation
  • must have an employment connection to the vessel that is substantial in terms of duration and nature, and
  • the employee work must contribute to the work or mission of the vessel.

In most cases, all crew aboard a vessel will qualify to be seamen. In most cases, fishermen and fish processors will qualify as having seaman status and rights under the Jones Act. Pile drivers, divers, and other workers also may qualify for seaman status.

If you work at approximately 30% of the time aboard a vessel that floats, you may qualify for seaman status.

Rowboats probably don't count.

Cases that occur aboard a vessel fall under the category of maritime law. According to the Constitution, Artice III, Section 2, maritime cases fall under federal jurisdiction, which is why Mr. Deon Jr.'s case was brought in federal district court.

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