The Jones Act provides compensation benefits to maritime workers. It encompasses those who work on seafaring vessels as well as people who work on offshore rigs. However, a recent federal court of appeals case could substantially narrow the class of workers who are eligible to recover compensation under the Jones Act.

Case background

In the case that was heard by the appeals court, a welder suffered an injury after tripping on a pipeline that was attached to an offshore platform. When he attempted to make a claim under the Jones Act, his Texas-based employer argued that he wasn’t a seaman under the definition of the Jones Act. The appeals court is attempting to determine how broadly to interpret the definition of a seaman.

A two-part test

In 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court established a two-part test in a case to define a seaman:

  • The person’s duties must contribute to the function or mission of a vessel
  • The person must have a connection to the vessel that is substantial in its duration and nature

The Court further refined this test a couple of years later. The Court held that determining whether a connection is substantial depends on whether the employee’s duties carry them out to sea. It was this part of the analysis upon which the appeals court made its initial determination. The three judges who heard the argument held that the welder did not have a “substantial in nature” connection to the offshore rig.

More to come

In a surprising move, the appeals court withdrew its initial ruling. Another panel of judges was assigned to hear the case, but they are recommending that a majority, if not all, of the appeals court judges hear the case.

It will take some time to resolve this matter. The main thing to keep in mind is that the law is always shifting. You shouldn’t leave anything to chance if you’re hurt on an offshore rig. A skilled legal professional can help explore all of your available legal options.