Jones Act

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The Jones Act, also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, is a federal statute establishing support for the development and maintenance of a merchant marine in order to support commercial activity and serve as a naval auxiliary in times of war or national emergency (see 46 USC § 50101). 

The statute, among other things, requires shipping between U.S. ports to be conducted by US-flag ships. (46 USC § 50102.)

The statute (46 U.S.C. § 30104) also extends the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA) to seamen. The Act enables seamen who have been injured at sea during the course of their employment to bring a personal injury action against their employers.

Under the Jones Act, the plaintiff may bring an action in federal district court or in state court. The defendant is not entitled to remove the case from a state court to federal court. Although maritime law generally does not afford the plaintiffs the right to a jury trial, the Jones Act grants plaintiffs that right in personal injury actions.

46 U.S.C. § 30104 reads: "A seaman injured in the course of employment or, if the seaman dies from the injury, the personal representative of the seaman may elect to bring a civil action at law, with the right of trial by jury, against the employer. Laws of the United States regulating recovery for personal injury to, or death of, a railway employee apply to an action under this section."

[Last updated in March of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]