For Injuries on the River, It’s the Jones Act or Maybe Not

You were injured on the job. Most people would file a workers’ compensation claim.

But you work on the river, and that means you’re probably not eligible for workers’ compensation. You’ll likely need to seek coverage under the Jones Act.

Or you might be covered by Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation (LHWC) instead, or possibly even the more common workers’ compensation.

Don’t panic. The basics, at least, are not as confusing as they might seem.

Workers’ Comp? LHWC? Jones Act?

A unique body of law applies to people who work as part of the Merchant Marine, the fleet of commercial vessels that could conceivably assist the Navy during wartime.

The Jones Act is a 1920 law that addresses injuries suffered by those workers.

For the Jones Act to apply to your injury case, you must spend at least 30 percent of your work hours as a master or crew member of a “vessel in navigation.”

If you’re a longshore worker, build or repair or break ships, work in harbor construction or the like, you’re more likely to be covered by LHWC, a division of the US Workers’ Compensation office.

Hidden within and between these simple categories and definitions, there is a staggering variety of exceptions and conditions in the law, not to mention many borderline cases out on the rivers.

For example, a singer on a permanently moored vessel used as a restaurant would be covered by the state’s workers’ compensation, not LWHC. However, if the state laws don’t apply, LWHC is likely to step up after all.

It’s not unusual for compensation claims to be denied entirely by any one of these programs. Attorneys with experience in maritime law on the rivers are sometimes needed to guide injured river workers through murky legal waters.