The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, also known as the Jones Act, is primarily a statute of the US federal government to ensure that inland transport of cargo and people are carried out by American vessels manned by Americans. However, the Jones Act also provides for the protection of the civil rights of seamen from work-related injury and death, and is often cited in personal injury cases usually handled by a maritime lawyer conversant with the intricacies of maritime law.
Maritime work is inherently dangerous, which is why the Jones Act parallels the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) protecting railroad workers in many respects. However, the provisions of the Jones Act with respect to personal injury claims need to be navigated carefully for a successful claim, because interpretations of negligence and liability can be tricky depending on the circumstances of the case.
Take for example the claim in Perkins v. American Electric Power (Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, 2001) where a second mate sustained serious injury because of a defective ratchet supplied by AEP. The contention was that AEP was negligent in that it failed to ensure the safety of its crew by providing adequate tools and training to carry out their tasks without fear of injury. The plaintiff, James W. Perkins, lost the case in district court, but was granted a partial reversal on appeal.
The case illustrates that while the ratchet was clearly defective, the plaintiff failed to provide evidence that AEP knew about the defect and allowed its use anyway. Moreover, the work history of the plaintiff negated the allegation that he needed additional training to do the task that resulted in his injury. The saving grace was that AEP was found negligent under the doctrine of seaworthiness inherent under the Jones Act for not providing safety ropes or handrails that may have prevented the accident.
It is not enough to think you have a clear case of negligence to prove a personal injury claim under the Jones Act because proving negligence requires a myriad of conditions to be met. Expert knowledge and experience of a maritime lawyer is needed in handling the case to have a reasonable hope of success.