Last month, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) sought an amendment to repeal the Jones Act. In a January 13, 2015 Press Release published on his website, Sen. McCain states, “I have long advocated for a full repeal of The Jones Act, an antiquated law that has for too long hindered free trade, made the U.S. industry less competitive and raised prices for American consumers.” McCain concludes his statement by calling for his colleagues to “join in this important effort to repeal this archaic legislation to spur job creation and promote free trade.” While the Arizona senator is quick to mention the alleged positives that come with repealing the Jones Act, with catch phrases like “job creation” and “free trade,” his Press Release fails to address how repealing the Act will eliminate a means of compensation to a large class of employees known as “seamen.” Masters, captains, officers, crewmembers, deckhands–to name a few–will all lose a right to sue their employers under a law that’s been around for almost a century.
The Jones Act provides a way for employee seamen to hold their employers civilly liable for their injuries, and in more unfortunate cases, death, when such was a result of the employer’s negligence. The Act is especially important for seamen given the unique and continuous risks of serious personal injury and death they face on a daily basis. As many courts have noted, by passing the Jones Act, Congress gave seaman a means of obtaining compensation for their injuries, which were “sustained in an inherently dangerous profession.” See Am. River Transp. Co. v. Phelps, 189 F. Supp. 2d 835, 849 (S.D. Ill. 2001) (citing Kelley v. Sun Transp. Co., 900 F.2d 1027, 1031 (7th Cir. 1990)).