Jones Act Lawsuits

This page is about the Jones Act. The Jones Act provides a path for our lawyers to get compensation for seamen and others who suffer injuries or their families in the event of a death. Our maritime lawyers explain how this litigation works and how settlement amounts and jury payouts in Jones Act laws are calculated.

Jones Act Lawsuit Updates

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of these maritime lawsuits and the settlement compensation victims see in these suits, let’s look at the latest on recent boating accident lawsuits and other maritime injury claims.

April 2, 2024: New Maritime Lawsuit on a Cruise Ship

In a new lawsuit, Mendoza v. International Cruise Shops, Ltd. d/b/a Starboard Cruise Services, Inc., and Holland America Line, NV, the plaintiff, a Nicaraguan national and crewmember aboard the M/V VOLENDAM, has initiated a lawsuit seeking damages under the general admiralty and maritime law of the United States, including the Jones Act. The lawsuit, filed in Miami-Dade County, Florida, alleges that the defendants failed to provide a safe working environment and adequate medical care following the plaintiff’s injuries sustained while performing duties that involved heavy lifting and long hours for a monthly salary of approximately $2,000, including commissions.

The plaintiff claims to have suffered severe lower back pain due to the strenuous work conditions and accuses the defendants of negligence in their response, particularly in providing medical treatment and adhering to the maintenance and cure obligations mandated by maritime law. The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages for the physical injuries and financial losses incurred, highlighting the challenges faced by seafarers and the protections afforded to them under the Jones Act for injuries sustained in service to their ships.

March 25, 2024 – Punitive Damages Under the Jones Act

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today on whether injured sailors could pursue punitive damages against shipowners in cases of unseaworthiness.

The plaintiff sustained severe hand injuries due to a defective hatch on a barge. The court previously acknowledged in 2009 that punitive damages could be sought if an employer failed to provide medical care and wages to an injured sailor, and now the debate extends to whether this can apply to claims of a vessel’s unseaworthiness. The defendant is challenging a federal appeals court’s decision that permitted such damages.

The Jones Act

Maritime commerce, or the business of transporting goods and passengers by sea, follows specific rules. In the U.S., these rules are known as “cabotage laws.” Cabotage laws say only ships registered in a country can transport goods and passengers from one port to another within that same country.

In the United States, these rules are governed by the Jones Act of 1920. There are actually three laws called the “Jones Act,” but when most people talk about the Jones Act, they’re referring to the Merchant Marine Act of 1920.

The Jones Act covers a lot. Our lawyers focus on Section 33, which provides vital protections for maritime workers injured due to negligence or vessel unseaworthiness. This maritime law allows injured seamen to pursue damages from their employers, covering a range of losses from medical expenses to lost wages and pain and suffering.

So injured or deceased seamen were granted the right to sue their employers (including the captain and crew under the principle of vicarious liability) for negligence, with the possibility of a jury trial, through the integration of remedies available to railroad employees under what would eventually be recognized as the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA).

How a Jones Act Lawsuit Works

Filing a lawsuit under the Jones Act involves several key steps and considerations for an injured maritime worker. Here’s is the nutshell of how these lawsuits work:


The first step is determining if the worker qualifies as a “seaman” under the Jones Act. This typically means the individual must spend a significant amount of their work time on a vessel or fleet of vessels under navigation, contributing to the vessel’s function or mission. The vessel must also be in operation, capable of moving on navigable waters.

Negligence or Unseaworthiness Claim

The injured seaman must then establish that their injury was caused by the negligence of the employer, the vessel’s owner, officers, or fellow employees or by the vessel’s unseaworthiness.

Of course, there are a lot of possible claims under this umbrella. Negligence could include a wide range of failures, such as not providing a safe working environment, inadequate training, or faulty equipment. Unseaworthiness refers to conditions where the vessel itself, including its equipment and crew, is not reasonably fit for its intended use.

Gathering Evidence

Collecting evidence – the right evidence – is crucial to your claim. This might involve documenting the conditions that led to the injury, collecting witness statements and medical reports to confirm the injury and its impact on the seaman’s life and work, maintaining records of the vessel, and any other evidence that supports the claim of negligence or unseaworthiness.

Maintenance and Cure

Regardless of fault, under the general maritime law, an injured seaman is entitled to “maintenance and cure,” which covers daily living expenses (maintenance) and medical costs (cure) until the seaman reaches maximum medical improvement. This is separate from the negligence claim under the Jones Act.

Filing the Lawsuit

The injured seaman, typically with the assistance of a maritime attorney, files a lawsuit against the employer or vessel owner. This must be done within three years of the injury date, according to the statute of limitations for Jones Act claims.

Seeking Compensation

Through the lawsuit, the seaman can seek damages for past and future medical expenses, lost wages, loss of earning capacity, pain and suffering, and more. Unlike maintenance and cure, these damages are contingent on proving negligence or unseaworthiness.

Trial or Settlement

Most Jones Act lawsuits – the vast majoritiy – end with a settled out of court. However, if a settlement cannot be reached, the case may go to trial, where a judge or jury will determine the outcome. The Jones Act allows for jury trials, which is relatively unique in maritime law. This increases the settlement amounts of sea accidents because juries typically award more than judges – and their unpredictability scares defendants.

Jones Act Settlements and Verdicts

Below are summaries of verdicts and reported settlements from recent injury cases brought under the Jones Act.

  • $2,218,000 Verdict (2024 Florida): The plaintiff filed under the Jones Act claiming that he was working as a deckhand aboard the F. Dawson when another employee, using a crane, struck plaintiff’s foot with an 800-pound “headache bowl.” He brought claims for unseaworthiness, negligence, and maintenance and cure. Plaintiff sought punitive damages and attorneys’ fees and costs as to maintenance and cure. The defendant admitted liability but contested damages.
  • $1,879,298 Verdict (2023 Louisiana): The plaintiff was working on the deck of a boat which was traveling without barges when it struck another vessel that was moored at a dock on the Mississippi River. The plaintiff said he suffered personal injuries which included injuries to the cervical region of his spine for which he underwent a two-level disc replacement surgery, a herniated disc in the lumbar region of his spine, headaches that were likely a concussion and injuries to his right shoulder, which included a partial tear/tendinosis of the supraspinatus tendon, for which the plaintiff underwent two arthroscopic surgeries and subsequent physical therapy.
  • $15,000,000 Verdict (2023 Missouri): The decedent, 22-years-old, was working as a deckhand for defendant Osage Marine Services Inc. when he fell from a barge into the Mississippi River. His body was not found and he was adjudicated presumptively deceased. His estate brought an action under the provisions of the Jones. The plaintiff asserted negligence in failing to provide a safe place to work, failing to provide adequate safety equipment, failing to provide a safe crew, failing to properly rescue the decedent after he fell in the river, and failing to provide a vessel that was seaworthy.
  • $3,300,000 Verdict (2023 New York): The deckhand had been directed to work on a barge during the cleaning of a vivid yellow corn gluten fertilizer, which was argued to pose an unsafe working environment. Following exposure to the substance, the deckhand suffered acute hypoxic respiratory failure, leading to hospitalization and necessitating ongoing respiratory treatments. He claimed that this aggravated his pre-existing asthma into a permanent condition. The defense countered, claiming the asthma was a childhood condition exacerbated by a previous incident with a different employer weeks earlier. However, the jury rejected this argument and awarded the deckhand $3.3 million in damages.
  • $2,500,000 Verdict (2022 Missouri): An ex-barge worker filed a lawsuit against a barge company for injuries suffered on the job. He sustained the injuries when a wire he was handling snapped, resulting in a fall and dislocation of his kneecap. Despite initially returning to work, he experienced subsequent knee issues, necessitating surgeries and potentially a knee replacement. The worker asserted that the company’s negligence in maintaining equipment and safety procedures caused his injury.

Contact Our Maryland Jones Act Lawyers for Help

The maritime personal injury lawyers at Miller & Zois can help get the compensation you are entitled to for an offshore maritime accident. Call us today at 800-553-8082 or contact us online.

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