Abbott Clay & Reed

How Many Times Has the Jones Act Been Amended Since Its Creation?

In Jones Act History, Jones Act Law, Legal Representation on July 11, 2009 at 7:35 PM

Since the inception of the Jones Act in 1920 there has been a need for this federal law to be clarified more specifically.  This act does set guidelines for maritime law; however, since the recent advancements in modern day life, there has been a need to reform this law time and time again.

After this bill was passed there was much controversy over how to define seamen and who would be protected by its statutes.  In 1927 Congress tried to clear this controversy up through the passage of the Longshoremen’s and Harbor Workers Compensation Act (LHWCA).  This amendment still left dozens of unanswered questions.  However, it did work to realize sailors were no longer the primary loaders and un-loaders of ships and that dockworkers had taken over this responsibility.  Although this extension now excluded any crew members of vessels so there was still much to decide after this amendment.

This debate would always resurface and lawsuits would arise such as the South Chicago Coal & Dock Co. v. Bassett case which led to Congress passing the declaration of a seaman not being defined if their duties did not pertain to the ships navigation.  This amendment only left more confusion and was begging for another reform.

A court case in 1955, Gianfala v. Texas Co, saw the Supreme Court state the definition of a seaman would be determined by the jury.  The specification of a “seaman” came to include laborers on floating oil drilling platforms and dredges. There was still too much grey area in a very serious matter that was growing with each passing year and the result was an eruption of Jones Act litigation.  This also led to nearly 100,000 Jones Act lawsuits in a ten year period between 1975 and 1985.

In 1995 the Supreme Court would finally make a better conclusion as to the defining of a modern seaman.  But, after a long bout of people demanding a reform for the maritime law, this amendment was still was not enough.

There has been much debate over this matter and until the Supreme Court can clearly define what makes a sailor a sailor there will be controversy surrounding this maritime law.

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