What are the Longshore Act and the Jones Act?

The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, was enacted in 1927 for the purpose of providing at least temporary compensation to injured offshore workers (and amended later to include onshore maritime employees) who were not otherwise covered by the Merchant Marine Act of 1920. The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, more commonly referred to as the Jones Act, provided for the rights of injured seamen to seek compensation for their injuries from ship owners, captains or even fellow crewmates in the event of proven negligence or fault on the part of any of the latter.

The Jones Act fell short where workers in the maritime industry who were not at sea were concerned. Thus, the LHWCA was enacted to include dock and most maritime workers, and was amended to include workers within industries located on the Outer Continental Shelf, workers in the maritime industries inland and civilian contractors and employees stationed overseas at US defense bases.

Do I Qualify Under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act?

Many more maritime workers qualify under LHWCA than would have under the Jones Act exclusively. Employees who, in the course of engagement in maritime work, sustain injury, occupational illness or disease, or death are eligible for compensation for their injuries, medical care or survivor benefits if the injury results in death. Workers in the service of maritime industries who qualify for recompense include those who are employed in maritime service on the navigable waters of the United States, and up to three miles inland, on vessels, wharfs, piers, in industries located offshore but on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf and adjacent harbors.

Also included are employees who perform harbor work loading, unloading, ship building, repair or shipbreaking. The LHWCA is incorporated into the Defense Base Act thereby covering employees of contractors working for the U.S. but who are located in other countries, as well as the Non-Appropriated Fund Instrumentalities Act which covers civilian employees working in programs and services that contribute to the well being of Armed Forces personnel.

Do I Qualify Under the Jones Act?

Historically, eligibility for compensation under the Jones Act has revolved around the legal determination of a ‘seaman.’ After undergoing numerous legal challenges, the Supreme Court in 1995 determined that in order to be considered a seaman two conditions need to be met. The first is that the seaman’s duties “must contribute to the function of the vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission” and the second is a seaman “must have a connection to a vessel in navigation (or an identifiable group of vessels) that is substantial in both its duration and its nature.”

While still somewhat open to challenge, essentially, if a seaman working in that stated capacity sustains injury or illness while in service to a vessel even if while on shore, that seaman may file suit for compensation. Unlike the LHWCA, a seaman must determine fault or negligence on the part of vessel owner, operators or crewmembers.

There are some exceptions to qualification or eligibility under these acts. Among them are the size and mission of the vessel upon which any worker is employed. Most generally, employees working on small, recreation or leisure oriented vessels are excluded from seeking compensation under either act.

Peter Wendt is a writer, researcher and resident of Austin, Texas who worked offshore for many years. The laws affecting workers on the high seas can be confusing, which is why Wendt recommends his readers go to this site for more information about maritime law.

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