Seaman Status and the Connection to Vessel Requirement: A Practical Example

Aug 12


Some maritime workers are very likely to qualify as seamen, while others find it difficult to prove a seaman status. A Jones Act seaman has certain advantages in court to assert different claims following a personal injury. Learn more about the seaman’s status with some real-life examples. 

The Main Battleground of Seamen Status Disputes

Seaman status disputes are widespread in personal injury lawsuits. The main reason is that marine and energy employers and their insurers recognize that Jones Act seamen’s claims present a high degree of financial risk and exposure to their businesses, which does not serve their interests. If there is any question whatsoever whether an injured maritime worker is a seaman, they will absolutely contend that he is not. 

The principal battleground of the status disputes is the requirement for an employment connection to a vessel or a fleet of vessels under common ownership. 

We have stressed the importance of a seaman’s substantial connection to the vessel. However, the rule we mentioned implies that there must also be an employment relationship. In some cases, it opens the door for vessel employers to prove that the injured employee does not have a seaman’s status, even if they pass the two-part status test.

Does a Marine Electrician Qualify as a Seaman?

Let’s use the job of a marine electrician to show how the employment requirement works. Marine electricians spend an overwhelming part of their time working aboard vessels. They surely pass the rule to spend more than 30% of their time aboard and also contribute to the function of the vessel. You might think they qualify as seamen, but they will likely not.  

Why? Because they typically are working aboard a variety of vessels owned by many different vessel owners, who hire them for specialized services. Their duties could be aboard vessels that are not necessarily a fleet of vessels under mutual ownership. So, marine electricians, who work in this capacity, are likely NOT seamen.

As you see, there are different aspects of the maritime worker’s job that are scrutinized following a personal injury. 

Proving a seaman's status plays an essential part in maritime personal injury cases, but the question of what constitutes a vessel is of similar importance.