An employer-employee relationship is essential to recovery under the Jones Act. In order to bring a valid claim against a Jones Act employer, an injured seaman must establish that at the time of the incident, he was an employee of the defendant, and was acting within the course of his employment.
For a seaman to recover under the Act, his employer need not be the owner or operator of the vessel (such as in the case of a crewmember hired by an independent contractor rather than by the shipowner). In fact, it is possible for a seaman to have more than one employer under the “borrowed servant doctrine,” which states that in certain circumstances, an employee who is “loaned” to a second employer for work on a particular project may be considered to have multiple employers for purposes of the Jones Act. As a result, the second employer takes on the responsibilities and liability of the original employer, and may be sued as such under the Act.
Although a seaman may have more than one Jones Act employer, courts have held that only one entity may be held liable as an ’employer’ for any given incident. As the Fifth Circuit stated in Spinks v. Chevron Oil, although a seaman cannot recover from more than one employer under the Jones Act, a plaintiff may sue more than one entity under the Act rather than speculating which entity the court will eventually determine to be the primary ’employer’ liable for the incident.
It is extremely important to determine your correct employment status when pursuing a Jones Act claim. Our experienced maritime attorneys can provide you with the assistance necessary to deal with these complex legal issues, and ultimately help you to obtain the compensation you are entitled.