Keeping Up with the Jones and the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act

Navigating the winding straits of various state workers’ compensation systems can be difficult to do for companies traversing state lines, but what if the company employs people at sea?  If your business employs dockworkers or seamen of any sort, there are two acts you should be aware of.

The Jones Act (1920) – The Jones Act is a set of cabotage, or “admiralty” laws.  Cabotage defines who has the right to engage in air, rail, truck or waterborne transportation in a country and its coastal waters.  The Jones Act focuses on the latter.

Modeled in part after the Federal Employers Liability Act, which provides benefits to rail workers, the Jones Act governs the liability of vessel operators and marine employers for the work-related injury or death of an employee.  The Jones act provides heightened legal protections to seamen because of their exposure to the perils of the sea but does not define the term “seamen.”  Federal court decisions have narrowed the definition to exclude land-based workers, though.  Workers on offshore oil rigs, ships, barges, riverboat casinos, tug boats, shrimp boats, fishing boats, trawlers, tankers, crew boats, ferries and water taxis are among those who are eligible for Jones Act relief if injured.

The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (1927), a companion of sorts to the Jones Act, provides scheduled pay for injury or death, to a broad range of land-based maritime workers, excluding those covered under The Jones Act.  Usually, employees who load or unload vessels, build or repair ships, and stevedores are among those eligible for LHWCA status.  Unlike The Jones Act, which is not administered by a federal or state agency, The Department of Labor administers LHWCA.

Although differentiating among employees eligible for consideration under the two acts seems simple, much litigation has ensued over the years since the two acts came into being, because “the myriad circumstances in which men go upon the water confront courts not with discrete classes of maritime employees, but rather with a spectrum ranging from the blue-water seamen to the land-based longshoreman.” Brown v. ITT Rayonier, Inc., 497 F.2d 234, 236 (CA5 1974)

Broad P & I (Protection and Indemnity) policies, Maritime Employers Liability and Maritime Workers’ Compensation products are available to cover Jones Act or LHWCA liability.  Some products combine coverage for state workers’ compensation acts and Jones Act or LHWCA exposures.  There are also policies available for employers with no “known” Jones Act exposure.

Although coverage for the liability imposed by employers under these acts may be more expensive than state workers’ compensation coverage, there may be penalties for non-compliance.  LHWCA, for example, imposes a fine of up to $10,000 and/or imprisonment of up to a year.  Talk to your agent to discuss your exposures and to see what options are available.

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