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Legal Blog

How the Jones Act Affects Oil Rig Workers

Oil rig workers have very dangerous jobs, surrounded by flammable and toxic materials as well as heavy machinery that can malfunction or otherwise cause a hazard. Those working on certain types of oil rigs at sea qualify as seamen, which means that – barring any extenuating circumstances – if they are injured on the job, the various aspects of liability and damages surrounding their cases fall under the Jones Act. For those employed offshore, it’s important to know how the Jones Act affects oil rig workers.

The Jones Act is one of the most important laws for seamen who have been injured on the job. President Woodrow Wilson enacted it to help the U.S. shipping industry recover after World War I. The Jones Act has been a focal point ensuring American security and prosperity for over a century. While oil rig workers injured in the Gulf of Mexico are often unsure if their injuries and damages are covered under the Jones Act, most are.

What is the Jones Act?

The Merchant Marine Act of 1920 contains the Jones Act in Section 27, which is a federal statute that helps workers injured at sea during the course and scope of their maritime employment to bring a personal injury lawsuit directly against their employers. The Act was designed and put in place to protect offshore workers from the inherent dangers they face at sea and to secure the legal rights of seamen. The Jones Act also grants injured offshore workers the right to a jury trial in personal injury cases. Under the Jones Act, employers can be held legally responsible for injuries that occur onboard their vessels even if the injuries are not directly work-related.

The Jones Act only applies to those working on vessels – so is an oil rig a vessel? A vessel is any ship used to facilitate work on navigable waters (with some exceptions for cruise ship passengers and other types of passenger vessels).

Is An Oil Rig Accident Injury Covered Under the Jones Act?

Offshore oil platforms are commonly referred to as oil rigs. Many are fixed to the ocean floor while others are floating vessels. There are a variety of types of offshore oil drilling rigs, including:

  • Fixed oil platforms: If they are permanently affixed to the ocean floor with steel or concrete legs and are not capable of navigation or movement, they are not vessels
  • Tension leg platforms: TLPs float atop the water but are secured to the ocean floor to minimize movement. While they look like semisubmersibles, they mostly do not qualify as vessels.
  • Spar platforms: Attached to the seafloor with mooring lines, they come in multiple configurations and generally do not meet the Jones Act vessel definition.
  • Jack-up drilling rigs (also known as Mobile Offshore Drilling Units or MODUs): They are designed to be able to move from location to location so they almost always qualify as a vessel.
  • Drill ships: Used for exploratory drilling, these generally qualify as vessels
  • Floating production systems (floaters): Floating production storage and offloading systems (FPSOs) process petroleum offshore but don’t actually drill. They are moored.
  • Semi-submersible platforms: They are designed with hulls that let them float upright on the water. They can be moved between locations but can also be affixed, anchored, or stabilized by dynamic positioning technology. Since they are capable of movement though, however, they qualify as Jones Act vessels.

Only certain types of offshore workers are covered by the Jones Act. Oil rig workers may be able to sue their employers under the Jones Act, depending upon factors. Our experienced Texas maritime injury attorneys can evaluate whether you might be entitled to compensation as an injured seaman under the Jones Act. As offshore drilling technology has evolved, the definition of what constitutes a vessel has had to evolve with it. The United States Supreme Court clarified that as long as a platform is capable of being moved, it constitutes a vessel and thus falls under the auspices of the Jones Act.

Houston Lawyers for Injured Oil Rig Workers

When an oil rig worker is injured in a maritime accident, the circumstances of the accident and/or injury will determine which maritime laws apply. In order to be successful with your personal injury claim for compensation, you should speak with a qualified Houston offshore accident lawyer who knows how these laws work and can apply them to the facts of your situation. The legal team of The Krist Law Firm, P.C. has years of extensive experience successfully representing injured oil rig workers, including obtaining numerous multi-million-dollar settlements and verdicts. We have the skill and resources to fight for everything you’re owed under the law and to hold the parties responsible for your injuries accountable. Call us today at 281-326-9197 or use our online contact form to schedule a free case evaluation with one of our maritime lawyers today.