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Contributory negligence on the high seas

On Behalf of | Sep 29, 2021 | Jones Act |

The idea that someone can contribute to the circumstances of an accident is a well-established one. One of the exceptions to this has been in the circuit courts, when it comes to Jones Act cases. This is particularly true in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which handles cases on the West Coast. In late 2020, a historic ruling was made that caused some changes to these precedents. This case was heard in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, which covers Louisiana and other neighboring states.

Understanding the Jones Act

The Jones Act, passed in 1920, regulates merchant marines in the United States. There are several important provisions in this act. Some of the most relevant provisions in this act for the present day pertain to personal injury law. The Jones Act is a federal law, and applies to cases throughout the U.S.

The 9th Circuit has long held that seamen cannot be held liable, even in part, for injuries incurred when following orders. This is different from most other situations. For example, if you slip and fall or are involved in a car accident, several parties can be assigned a percentage of liability for the incident. That affects the size of the damages awarded.

A new interpretation

In December, 2020, the 5th Circuit issued a different ruling. They noted that the 9th Circuit approaches these cases differently from other courts. The 5th Circuit held that if the orders are not specific and the worker decides how to complete the task, the worker may be held partly accountable for their injuries.

This case sets a new precedent for seamen in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi. Seamen working in those states need to be aware of this change, as it affects any injury claims they may have.