The Jones Act is a federal law enacted in 1920 which, in part, protects seamen who are injured on vessels working on the navigable waters of the United States. The Act allows an injured seaman to bring a claim against his employer for the negligence of his or her emplorer or co-employee.
Normally such a claim would be barred by state workers' compensation laws which greatly limit an injured worker's rights and compensation. It's a sad fact that "workers" compensation laws protect the employer rather than the worker.
The Jones Act and the FELA, which protects railroad workers, are the only two Acts which allow employees to recover the same damages for injuries from their employer as could be recovered in a third party claim. Basically, they can recover for past and future medical expenses, past and future lost wages, and for past and future pain and suffering.
The navigable waters of the United States consist of the waters along the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific coasts, the Great Lakes, the inland waterways and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.
The inland waterways are made up of over 25,000 miles of navigable rivers, most of which are located in the eastern half of the United States. The Mississippi River and connecting rivers allows vessels to transit from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast..
Inland and intracoastal waterways directly serve 38 states. Their primary use is to utilize tugs and barges to move large quantities of bulk commodtiies such as coal, petroleum products and grain and other food products from the inland sources to ports along the Gulf of Mexico such as Mobile, New Orleans and Houston for further shipment be sea to domestic and foreign destinations.
Towboats, which are actually pushboats, push barges lashed together, known as a "tow", down the rivers. 4 to 6 barge tows are common on the smaller, more winding rivers and 15 barge tows are common on the larger rivers. 40 barge tows are frequently seen on the Mississippi River. (For reference purposes a single 15 barge tow is the equivalent of 225 railroad cars or 870 tractor trailers.)
A towboat crew generally consists of at least 4 persons–a captain, a pilot or relief captain, an engineer and a deck hand. Larger tows may have an additional deck hand. All of these persons are Jones Act seamen. In addition, there are many ports along the rivers where transiting tows re-fuel and take on supplies. Frequently harbor tugs push fueling barges to the tows. Everyone working on these tugs and barges are also Jones Act seamen.
The Jones Act and the FELA were enacted because working on commercial vessels and the railroads were among the most dangerous professions. Safety has improved but injuries and deaths continue to occur. When that happens these workers and their families need and deserve everything we can do for them.