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Does the Jones Act Cover Asbestos Exposure?

Legally Reviewed by Joseph P. Williams on May 31, 2022

Asbestos was widely used as a building material in many industries in the 1900s. One of the most prominent industries that relied on asbestos before it was regulated due to its carcinogenic properties was maritime work. Maritime accidents – including maritime workers being diagnosed with occupational illnesses – are governed by the Jones Act. Under this federal statute, a seaman who is diagnosed with an illness due to asbestos exposure may be eligible for financial compensation.

What Is the Jones Act?

The Jones Act – officially titled the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 – is a federal statute that was created to support commercial activity and Naval auxiliary by developing and maintaining a merchant marine in times of war or national emergency. The Jones Act also extended the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) to working seamen. It effectively extended the right to sue an employer to seamen who are injured at sea during the course of their employment. This lawsuit can be brought in the federal district court or state court.

What Does the Jones Act Cover?

Anyone who works in the maritime industry, including shipbuilders, oil rig workers and Navy seamen, are covered under the Jones Act. The right to file a lawsuit against an employer in the maritime industry under the Jones Act covers almost all injuries and illnesses – as well as related deaths – that arise in the scope of the seaman’s employment. This includes illnesses caused by exposure to asbestos on the job.

What Are the Risks of Working Around Asbestos?

Asbestos is a mineral that is still frequently found in the maritime industry. Due to its many desirable traits, such as fireproofing, insulation and durability, asbestos was widely used among shipbuilders in almost every component of a ship through most of the 20th Century. Unfortunately, this means that maritime workers today are still at risk of dangerous asbestos exposure on the job.

Prolonged or persistent exposure to asbestos can cause many health problems for an offshore worker. This includes a chronic lung disease called asbestosis, a terminal type of cancer known as mesothelioma and lung cancer. There is no “safe” amount of asbestos exposure for a worker. Anyone who works near or around asbestos fibers, especially in the enclosed space of a vessel, is at risk of swallowing or inhaling asbestos fibers and later being diagnosed with a related illness.

Can You File a Claim Under the Jones Act for Asbestos Exposure?

If you are a maritime or offshore worker in New York or New Jersey who has been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related illness, you most likely have grounds to file a lawsuit against your employer under the rights granted to you by the Jones Act. An employer can be held legally and financially responsible (liable) for a worker’s asbestos exposure if the employer had reason to know about this risk and should have done more to protect workers.

Even if your employer was not negligent, you may still have grounds to file a mesothelioma lawsuit against the manufacturer of a product that contained asbestos. Asbestos-related diseases typically are not diagnosed until decades after a seaman’s exposure to this mineral. If an employer or product manufacturer no longer exists or has declared bankruptcy, you may still be eligible for compensation through a resource such as an Asbestos Trust Fund. This is a federal system that was set up to reimburse mesothelioma victims despite companies declaring bankruptcy. 

If a loved one in your family has passed away from mesothelioma or another disease connected to asbestos exposure after working in the maritime industry, the Jones Act entitles the personal representative of the seaman’s estate to bring a civil action against the employer for wrongful death. A successful lawsuit can result in compensation being paid to surviving family members and dependents for a funeral and burial, lost wages and inheritance, loss of consortium, and other losses.

For more information about filing a lawsuit for asbestos exposure under the Jones Act, contact The Williams Law Firm, P.C. to request a free consultation with one of our attorneys.

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