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Supreme Court may review Jones Act Seaman Definition

Supreme Court may review Jones Act Seaman Definition

September 29, 2014

The Associated Press reported over the weekend on the story of William Smith Dize, a maritime worker who attempted to sue his employer under the Jones Act in 2008. Dize claimed that he developed silicosis – a deadly lung disease caused by inhalation of silica dust – after sandblasting a boat as part of his work duties. Dize’s bosses said he was not entitled to file for compensation under the Jones Act because the nature of his work did not qualify him as a “seaman,” which is a requirement for suing under the Jones Act.

Tragically, Dize died in 2012. His wife is now requesting that the US Supreme Court review her husband’s case. Her and her late husband believed he should have qualified as a seaman. He spent a lot of time as a boat captain, shuttling pilots to other vessels. When he wasn’t on the water, he was working around it on the dock, performing boat maintenance, cleaning, ordering parts and performing various other tasks. The Jones Act defines a seaman as someone who spends at least 30 percent of his or her time “in the service of a vessel in navigation.” Dize didn’t fall into this definition, but his lawyers said his boat maintenance work should have counted toward that definition.

Dize’s employers had said he should instead seek compensation under workers’ compensation law, but doing so would most likely involve a significant difference in the amount of compensation that could be recovered.

Now Dize’s widow and lawyers want the Supreme Court to take the case and review what type of work counts toward the 30 percent requirement. The Supreme Court is expected to decide this week if they will take the case.