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Is a riverboat worker a "seaman" under the Jones Act?

There is a patchwork of laws designed to help Louisiana workers after they are injured on the job. Most workers on land rely on workers' compensation. Many workers on the Gulf can rely on the Jones Act. Some dockworkers rely on the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act. Which legal procedure you must follow depends on how your job is legally classified.

A recent decision by the Louisiana Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit shook up some of these classifications.

The case involved a man who was working as a deckhand for a riverboat casino when he was injured. In an earlier decision, the court of appeals held that the man did not qualify as a seaman under the Jones Act because the riverboat did not qualify as a "vessel," under the law. The casino has been moored for many years and serves full-time as a casino. However, the court recently overturned that decision, ruling that the riverboat qualifies as a vessel because it was designed for navigation, and is still capable of navigation.

It's too early to say what effect this latest decision will have on the state of maritime law in Louisiana, but it has the potential to expand the reach of the Jones Act to cover many riverboat workers who were otherwise ineligible for it.

To a maritime worker who has been injured on the job, the technicalities of maritime law may seem frustratingly abstract. All an injured person wants is to feel better, to pay for their treatment and to be able to pay their family's bills while they recover. However, these legal technicalities can have important consequences for the types and amounts of benefits available to these workers. It can be vitally important that the injured seek out help from a lawyer with experience in maritime law.

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