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907-331-3549 Anchorage, Alaska Personal Injury Law Firm
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What you need to know about the Jones Act

Alaska has a thriving commercial shipping industry, much of it related to tourism. Consequently, many Alaska workers are employed on ships in a variety of capacities. Should they suffer an injury or contract an illness during the course of their employment, even if not actually on board at the time, the Jones Act allows them to recover their medical costs, daily living expenses and lost wages from their employer.

As explained by the Legal Information Institute, the Jones Act is a federal statute dating back to 1920. Its main purpose was to establish support for merchant mariners, but it also extends the Federal Employer’s Liability Act to seamen on commercial vessels as well as military vessels. Under the Jones Act, any seaman can sue his or her employer for personal injury in either a state or federal court.

Sea History says that the Jones Act works similarly to, but differently than, workers’ compensation to protect seamen. For all practical purposes, it is like they belong to a health maintenance organization where the shipowner and/or its insurance carrier is the HMO, but the seaman pays no insurance premiums.

Maintenance, cure and unearned wages

Unlike workers’ compensation, a Jones Act employer must pay its worker’s medical costs and daily maintenance even if the employee’s accident, injury or illness did not occur while on the job. In addition, except in extremely rare circumstances, it makes no difference whether or not the employee was responsible for his or her accident.

Maintenance refers to the worker’s daily living expenses. Cure refers to the worker’s medical costs. The employer must pay both. However, there are limits on how much a worker can recover. At the point where he or she reaches a state of “maximum medical improvement,” the employer is not required to pay any additional medical expenses, even if the worker incurs such expenses. Nor is the employer required to pay any additional maintenance.

The employer also must pay the worker’s unearned wages, including overtime. How long the worker is entitled to recover unearned wages, however, depends on the employment agreement or contract under which he or she was hired. For instance, if the period of employment is for a specific voyage, the employer can cease unearned wage payments once the voyage comes to an end.

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