Local lawyer tells advantages, disadvantages of Jones Act
For decades, the Jones Act has advantageously allowed injured seamen to file lawsuits in Jefferson County, even if the plaintiff's injury occurred thousands of miles away and the defendant's principal office was situated outside of Jefferson County.
That all likely ended on May 24, 2007, when the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 1602, said Michael Eaves, an admiralty and maritime law attorney.
Eaves, a managing partner at Calvert Eaves Clarke & Stelly, L.L.P., said before the revisions, injured seamen sometimes migrated inside Jefferson County borders with the intention of filing lawsuits under the Jones Act.
With the modification to the Jones Act's venue provisions under Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code section 15.0181, "I think we are going to see less instances of forum shopping, Eaves said.
Patterned after the Federal Employers' Liability Act – legislation enacted in the early 1900s to protect injured railroad workers – the Jones Act is a federal statute permitting injured seamen to sue their employers for pecuniary (economic) damages, Eaves said.
However, "one of the drawbacks with a Jones Act claim is that a seaman cannot sue for punitive damages, loss of consortium (deprivation of the benefits of a spousal relationship) and physical disfigurement, Eaves said, adding that one of the act's main advantages was permitting plaintiffs and their lawyers to "shop" around for a more favorable venue.
To invoke the Jones Act, Eaves said that an injured plaintiff must establish he or she is a "seaman" by satisfying three key requirements. First the vessel where the incident occurred has to be in navigation. Second, the plaintiff must have an employment connection to the vessel and/or its fleet an identifiable fleet of vessels that is substantial in both nature and duration.
"And the third vital element in establishing seaman status is that (the plaintiff's) employment contributes to the work and function of the vessel," Eaves said.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Jones Act, formally the Philippine Autonomy Act of 1916, was originally a statute announcing the intention of the U. S. to "withdraw their sovereignty over the Philippine Islands as soon as a stable government can be established therein."
Eaves concentrates his practice in the areas of admiralty and maritime law, appellate work, insurance defense litigation, personal injury and toxic tort litigation.
He is a current member of the board of the Jefferson County Bar Association and a member of the Maritime Law Association of the United States.
Eaves is also a dedicated supporter of the local maritime industry and the seamen who make their living in Southeast Texas. He is a board member and past president of the U.S. Propeller Club-Port of the Sabine as well as a board member of the Port Arthur International Seafarers' Center, where he currently serves as New Building Committee Chairman.