How Maritime Law Applies to Oil Field Work

Not many people realize that oil field work isn’t governed by normal federal or state laws. Maritime law, also called admiralty law, is an international system that governs such offshore activities. It applies to all seagoing vessels, whether they’re a cruise ship, fishing boat, or oil rig. If you’re not sure how this works, Pepper & Odom, P.C. offers a brief introduction to maritime law and how it applies to oil field work. Understanding the law is the first step toward protecting yourself when something goes wrong.


The Jones Act began in 1920 as the Merchant Marine Act. At the time, sailors injured at sea had no legal way to seek compensation. Traditional workers’ compensation did not apply, and maritime law had no equivalent. When it was introduced, the Merchant Marine Act allowed injured sailors to maintain an action for their damages. It’s been updated several times since enactment, known today as the Jones Law.

Originally, the Jones Law only applied to boats and barges. As of a 2005 court ruling, however, oil rigs became qualified as vessels under the Jones Law. This means that oil rig workers are eligible for protection under the Jones Act.


Workers’ compensation under the Jones Act is divided into two types of compensation: maintenance and cure. Both types of compensation are available regardless of who is legally at fault. Here’s a brief explanation of each:


Maintenance refers to compensation paid to an injured worker while they recover. It covers the worker’s living expenses, including rent, food, utilities, insurance, and even travel expenses if medical treatment requires them. The amount offered will depend on your typical cost of living.


Cure is restitution for actual medical care. This includes compensation for doctor visits, medications, physical therapy, counseling, or whatever is necessary to return you to full health. However, it does not include the cure of any permanent effects or disabilities.

The Jones Act also allows workers to seek further compensation in a jury trial. While there is no need to prove fault to receive maintenance and cure, workers who are able to prove negligence can gain compensation beyond what the Jones Act offers. Negligence can include the following:

  • Poor or inadequate training
  • Lack of appropriate safety gear
  • Poor vessel upkeep and maintenance
  • Other similar charges


Though the Jones Act is one of the most important resources to be aware of, it’s not the only protection available. There are a few other laws that can help, including:

  • Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA): This compensates families and dependents of maritime and oil rig workers who die as a result of employer negligence.
  • Oil Pollution Act (OPA): This compensates workers for injuries that result from an oil spill, refinery accident, or another oil-related catastrophe.
  • Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation (LHWCA): This protects maritime professionals in non-seaman occupations, including workers on oil rigs.
  • Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA): This extends LHWCA protection to employees of rigs that explore and extract oil and other resources on the outer continental shelf.


Working on an offshore oil rig is dangerous. Fortunately, maritime law includes protection for workers who get injured. If you or a loved one has been hurt while on a rig, get in touch with a maritime law expert like the ones at Pepper & Odom, P.C. At our locations in Birmingham, Alabama, and Jackson, Mississippi, we’ll help you understand the recourses available so you can receive the compensation you are entitled to.