Under the Jones Act, an employer has the duty to provide its seaman employees with a reasonably safe place to work. An employer breaches that duty if it does not act with ordinary prudence. In other words, if a maritime employer disregards a danger that it knew or should have known and that danger causes a crewmember’s injury, it will be found liable under the Jones Act. Generally, an employer violates the Jones Act when it fails to maintain an area such as a deck, fails to properly instruct an employee on how to safely go about performing his job duties or does not provide the crewmember with appropriate safety gear. These situations, though common, are not the only ways an employer can breach its duty owed to its crewmembers.
Another way an employer can violate the Jones Act is through navigational errors or omissions by the ship’s captain. In a recent case, a court found that a jury can decide if the captain’s decision of keeping the vessel “in the field” during rough weather instead of seeking protected waters constitutes a violation of the employer’s Jones Act duty. In the case, the crewmember seaman fell down a ladder in heavy seas after being order by the captain to go inside the vessel. The court reasoned the decision to keep the vessel in rough seas combined with the captain’s order for the crewmember to go inside is enough evidence for a jury to return a verdict in the seaman’s favor and denied the employer’s motion to find no liability.