Most people living in the South have heard of the Jones Act and know that it’s a federal law that has something to do with big ships. In reality, the Jones Act 1920 addresses almost every aspect of the shipping industry and the statute has an enormous economic impact on the United States.
What is the Jones Act?
The Jones Act, also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, is a “cabotage law,” meaning that it regulates trade that occurs between ports located in the same country. The statute requires that vessels carrying cargo between two US ports be built, owned, and staffed primarily by American citizens. The Jones Act also establishes standards for vessel maintenance and safety and requires ships to comply with EPA regulations. Most importantly for employees, the law establishes a higher standard of care for employers and allows injured workers to recover damages caused by negligence.
Because the Jones Act requires that so much shipbuilding and operating take place in the United States, the law creates a multi-billion dollar a year impact on the economy and also generates nearly half a million US jobs. Some argue that Jones Act repeal is best because it can drive up the cost of shipping by reducing competition, especially to places like Alaska and Hawaii, however, the legislation usually has bipartisan support.
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What is the purpose of the Jones Act?
There are several reasons for the Jones Act shipping law. Congress passed the law just after World War I, when the United States fleet was largely destroyed. By requiring that a large part of the shipping industry occur within the US, the statute stimulated commerce while also rebuilding a fleet that would be capable of supporting the military in matters of national security. Commercial Jones Act vessels have been used for this purpose many times in the century since law was passed. Perhaps most memorably, on 9/11 commercial cargo ships surrounding Manhattan performed the largest boatlift in US history, working for 9 hours to carry nearly half a million people off the island.
The Jones Act also makes the US shipping industry a safer and more profitable place to work by establishing safety standards and the ability for employees to recover for if they are injured while working.
What ships are considered Jones Act vessels?
The Jones Act only applies to vessels carrying cargo between US ports. This means that foreign ships bringing goods to the US are not covered by the Jones Act, nor are ships leaving the US shipping cargo to other countries.
In order to comply with the requirements, Jones Act ships transporting commercial cargo between American ports must meet four criteria:
- The vessel must fly the US flag,
- The vessel must be built in the United States,
- The vessel must be at least 75% owned by American citizens and/or businesses, and
- The vessel must be crewed by at least 75% Americans.
What is a Jones Act violation?
There are many types of Jones Act violations. A commercial ship can violate the law if it doesn’t meet the four requirements and it transports cargo between two US ports. A Jones Act ship can violate the statute by failing to meet the safety standards or by being negligent and causing injury to an employee.
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What happens when the Jones Act is waived?
After a natural disaster, Jones Act waivers are usually big news. Although the issue can be much more complicated, essentially the affected area needs help as quickly as possible. When the President waives the Jones Act, this will allow vessels that do not meet the four requirements to ship cargo to the site of the disaster.
Although the decision is usually controversial, sometimes a Jones Act waiver is not granted. In the immediate days and months after Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Rita in 2017, the damaged infrastructure of the country meant that it was not able to distribute all the goods that were being shipped there. The Jones Act requirements were not waived because there was not a shortage of American vessels when the country was not able to handle the cargo that was already being shipped there. As Puerto Rico continues to recover, the issue of a Jones Act waiver remains part of the national debate.
Does a waiver affect personal injury Jones Act claims?
No. While one part of the legislation is waived for the Jones Act ships, the other parts of the law establishing an employer’s duty of care and safety standards will still apply. This means that people working on board a Jones Act vessel will still have all the same protections even if there is a Jones Act waiver in place.
What about Jones Act cruise ships?
Are you reading this article and wondering if you would be allowed to book a cruise in one US port and disembark at another? Well, the answer is no, but not because of the Jones Act. The Jones Act only applies to commercial ships carrying cargo, while similar regulations apply to passenger ships, including cruise ships, under the Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886. This law, not to be confused with the cruising laws that keep teenagers off the roads at night, requires that passengers who disembark at a different US port than they boarded pay a $798 fee, even for emergencies.
Do you have a Jones Act claim?
If you were injured while working in the shipping industry, contact us for a free case evaluation. We will work with you on a contingency-fee basis to gather evidence and prove your case. An attorney can determine what types of claims you have so that you can recover what you deserve, even if you are partially at fault for the accident. You may be eligible to file a claim for medical costs, emotional distress and further damages. Fill out our free case evaluation form to see if you are eligible for a claim. An experienced Jones Act attorney at Morris Bart will assist you in the evaluation process. Initial consultations are free. We have office locations throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas. Call us at 1-800-537-8185 today.
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