The Jones Act vs. the Longshoreman and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act for Maritime Workers

The Jones Act vs. the Longshoreman and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act for Maritime Workers

Special Federal Laws Apply When Maritime Workers Are Hurt or Killed on the Job in Indiana or Illinois

When you are working here in Indiana or Illinois at a port or on board a vessel, then you may be considered a “maritime worker” under state and federal law.

If so, then the next issue will be which law covers your accident claim:  the Jones Act or the Longshoreman and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA). 

Maritime Workers Hurt in Accidents on the Job in Illinois or Indiana

Here in our part of the country, lots of breadwinners earn their living by working as harbor workers, longshoremen, stevedores, seamen, tug workers, barge workers, etc.   Maybe they work on board some kind of vessel.  Maybe they work at port, like Indiana’s Burns Harbor; Jeffersonville; or Mount Vernon or the Illinois International Port District.

Either way, if they are seriously injured or killed in an on-the-job accident, then the usual workers’ compensation process for workers in Indiana and Illinois do not apply to their claims.  See, e.g., “Fighting for Justice for Maritime Workers Hurt or Killed on the Job.”

Their accident claims will be covered by one of two federal laws, which may have different results for the accident victim.  These are the Jones Act (46 U.S.C. § 30104) and the LHWCA (33 U.S.C. § 901-950), which are mutually exclusive workers’ compensation systems set up to provide for people who are hurt on the job while working in some kind of maritime employment.

The maritime worker will be covered by one or the other of these two systems, but not both.  Which one is applicable to his or her claim will depend upon the kind of work being done and the language of the laws themselves.

Who is covered by The Jones Act?

The Jones Act (46 U.S.C. § 30104) covers a “seaman” who is hurt on the job; there has been some litigation and statutory discussion on exactly how this term is defined.  As the Department of Labor explains:

The determination turns solely on the employee’s connection to a vessel in navigation. It is not necessary that an employee aid in navigation or contribute to the transportation of the vessel in order to be “seaman” under the Jones Act, but the employee must be doing the ship’s work by contributing to the function of the vessel or the accomplishment of its mission.”

Who is covered by the Longshoreman and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA)?

The LHWCA (33 U.S.C. § 901-950) specifically states that it does NOT cover a “master or member of a crew of any vessel.”  That’s covered under the Jones Act.

The LHWCA provides coverage for longshoremen, harbor workers, and shipbuilders who are injured while working on the job in the navigable waters of the United States. Essentially, the LHWCA covers non-seaman maritime workers who are hurt while on the job in American waters or any intersecting area used for loading, repairing, or building. 

Under the language of the LHWCA, the following injured employees are NOT covered by the LHWCA:

  • Seamen (masters or members of a crew of any vessel);
  • Employees of the United States government or of any state or foreign government;
  • Employees whose injuries were caused solely by their intoxication; and
  • Employees whose injuries were due to their own willful intention to harm themselves or others.

Also, as the DOL explains in its FAQ for the LHWCA, the following accident victims are not covered by the LHWCA if they are covered by the state workers’ compensation systems of Indiana or Illinois:

  • Individuals employed exclusively to perform office clerical, secretarial, security, or data processing work;
  • Individuals employed by a club, camp, recreational operation, restaurant, museum, or retail outlet;
  • Individuals employed by a marina and who are not engaged in construction, replacement, or expansion of such marina (except for routine maintenance);
  • Individuals who (A) are employed by suppliers, transporters, or vendors, (B) are temporarily doing business on the premises of a maritime employer, and (C) are not engaged in work normally performed by employees of that employer covered under the Act;
  • Aquaculture workers;
  • Individuals employed to build any recreational vessel under sixty-five feet in length, or to repair any recreational vessel, or to dismantle any part of a recreational vessel in connection with the repair of such vessel; and
  • Small vessel workers if exempt by certification of the Secretary of Labor under certain conditions.

How The Jones Act is Different from LHWCA

There are several differences between the Jones Act and the LHWCA.  One key distinction between these two workers’ compensation systems is how payment is handled for accident claims.

Under the LHWCA, this is an issue to be decided via the administrative agency system overseen by the Department of Labor.  However, under the Jones Act, payment is decided by a judge or jury because the worker proceeds in the federal judicial system.

In other words, you file a lawsuit under The Jones Act but not under the LHWCA.

This is a key distinction because the injured worker who is covered by the Jones Act may well obtain a higher award than a maritime worker with similar injuries who proceeds under the administrative system of the LHWCA.

Furthermore, the provisions of the Jones Act allow for more kinds of damages to be paid to the victim.

For instance, the Jones Act covers pain and suffering.  It has higher amounts available for widows too.

Pursuing Injury Claims as a Maritime Worker Hurt on the Job

For those who have been hurt while working in some type of maritime employment, it is vital that they determine what laws apply to their situation.  It may be that they are limited to filing under the LHWCA, but then again they may be able to file a negligence lawsuit as well under state law.  Maybe they have a clear Jones Act case and need to pursue a federal lawsuit.

For accident victims and their loved ones, it’s fair and just that they expect and receive the proper amount of damages available to them after they have been seriously harmed or fatally injured on the job.  When this involves a maritime accident, some factual investigation as well as legal analysis may be needed to determine which laws apply and what route to take.

If you or someone you love works as a harbor worker, longshoreman, stevedore, seaman, tug worker, barge workers, or other maritime worker who is hurt either at port or on board a vessel (container ship, barge, tug, cargo ship, etc.), then there are specific laws that apply to their case.  It’s important to proceed in a manner that provides them proper justice.  Let’s be careful out there!


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