Understanding admiralty and maritime Law is essential for anyone who has been injured at sea or in a maritime setting. This specialized area of law is designed to support victims by outlining their rights and the avenues available for seeking compensation and justice.

Whether an injury occurred on a ship, a dock, or any maritime environment, knowing all the legal options is the first step you should take towards securing the compensation you deserve.

Admiralty and Maritime Law Attorney

If you or a loved one have been injured in the course of working as a maritime worker, including as a longshoreman, dock worker, or on a US defense base, then you may be entitled to compensation, even if you were previously denied. Litigating insurance claims is a long and difficult process and requires a strong, dedicated team of experienced attorneys to fight successfully.

The lawyers at BoatLaw, LLP, have decades of experience winning compensation for their clients in cases of denied worker’s compensation, injury, and death cases.

Call 1 (800) 262-8529 to secure an initial consultation.

Do not settle for less than what your case is worth.

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What is Admiralty and Maritime Law?

Admiralty and maritime law is a specific area of law that concerns activities on the sea. It sets rules for private sea business and issues related to shipping, including the transport of goods and people across the water. This law applies to all private sea vessels, regardless of size, and covers a wide range of matters like ship accidents, maritime contracts, and the rights of seafarers.

There is a strong distinction between Admiralty and maritime law and “the law of the sea.” Admiralty law ensures fair sea commerce, provides legal guidelines for the operation of ships, and helps resolve disputes that occur on international waters.

The first is distinct from the law of the sea, which deals with issues of public international law regarding navigational rights, mineral rights, and the marine environment.

When it comes to personal injury, this branch of law is important for determining liability and compensation for injuries suffered on or near the water, including those working on ships, docks, or offshore platforms. It allows victims of maritime accidents to seek compensation for injuries, lost wages, and medical expenses.

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What Types of Injuries or Accidents are Covered Under Admiralty and Maritime Law?

Admiralty and maritime law covers injuries and accidents that occur in relation to sea navigation, shipping, and water-based employment. This includes accidents and injuries on ships, boats, oil rigs, and other maritime vessels, as well as those occurring in ports and on docks. Common types of covered incidents include slip and fall accidents on a vessel, injuries from machinery or equipment, collisions between ships, and accidents because of unsafe working conditions. Workers affected by incidents, including seamen, dockworkers, and offshore workers, can seek compensation under admiralty and maritime law. This legal area also concerns cases of drowning or accidents involving recreational water activities if they happen within navigable waters.

Additionally, admiralty and maritime law include wrongful death claims. This means that if a maritime worker or passenger dies as a result of negligence or unsafe conditions while at sea or in a maritime setting, their family members can pursue compnsation. These laws ensure that victims and their families have a way to seek justice and financial support for their losses.

Boating Accidents – common causes of these accidents include operator inattention, inexperience, machinery failure, and intoxication.

Charter Boat Accidents – fishing boats, yachts, and sailboats rented for personal use, often face accidents because of negligence by the captain or owner. These accidents result from reckless operation, boating under the influence, inexperienced operators, and not following safety guidelines, among other reasons.

Vessel Sinkings – despite modern safety standards, vessels still sink, resulting in injuries and fatalities to those at sea. These tragic events can be caused by unforeseen circumstances or human error. Individuals who survive or lose loved ones in incidents face physical, psychological, and financial hardships.

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Admiralty and Maritime Laws

Jones Act – a federal law that provides maritime workers the right to seek compensation from their employers for injuries incurred on the job because of negligence. This law is essential for maritime workers as it offers a pathway for them to address harm caused by unsafe working conditions or lack of employer oversight. The Act covers a wide range of injuries and accidents. Injured workers could receive damages for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and future earning capacity.

The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) – offers compensation and medical benefits to maritime workers injured on the job, covering those not classified as seamen. It provides a safety net, ensuring financial and medical support for workers without the need to prove employer negligence. Covering a wide range of injuries and occupational diseases, LHWCA includes dockworkers, shipyard workers, and others involved in maritime employment. It operates on a no-fault basis, simplifying the process for workers to receive necessary assistance. LHWCA provides injured maritime workers with medical benefits, compensation for lost wages, and vocational rehabilitation services, without needing to prove employer negligence.

The Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) – allows families to seek compensation for the loss of loved ones who die because of negligence or wrongful acts beyond three nautical miles from U.S. shores. This federal law fills a gap in maritime law, enabling claims for financial and emotional losses. It covers deaths on international waters, including those on ships and aircraft, and permits claims by the deceased’s personal representatives. The act focuses on financial damages like support loss and funeral expenses, though non-economic damages are generally not covered.
Defense Base Act (DBA) – allows workers and dependents to seek compensation for injury or death so long as the worker is operating under the US military and/or on a us military base. The act operates as an extension of the LHWCA. Employees covered under the DBA can submit worker’s compensation claims, including claims of injury, malfeasance, negligence and death.

Seaman’s Manslaughter Statute – imposes criminal liability on seamen, vessel owners, and operators for negligence leading to death. Originating from a tragedy involving Senator Josiah Johnson, the statute concerns negligence, fraud, neglect, or misconduct that directly causes a fatality. Penalties can include fines up to $250,000 or twice the financial impact of the incident, and imprisonment for up to ten years. Restitution to victims is also possible.

Seaman’s Protection Act – a federal law designed to shield maritime workers from retaliation for reporting safety violations or engaging in other protected activities. It applies to those who, in good faith, alert authorities about breaches of maritime safety laws, report work-related injuries or illnesses, or cooperate with safety investigations. The Act outlines specific procedures for filing complaints, with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) playing a central role in the investigative process.

Admiralty Jurisdiction Extension Act – a federal law that extends admiralty and maritime jurisdiction to injuries sustained on land because of accidents involving vessels on navigable waters. Initially, maritime workers injured onshore had limited options for compensation, but this Act allows them to pursue damages for injuries. It covers cases where the injury, although occurring on land, has a direct connection to a vessel accident. This extension includes compensation for injuries related to loading, unloading, or storing cargo on vessels, as well as damages to bridges or piers caused by vessels.

The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) – provides compensation for maritime workers injured on the outer continental shelf, filling a legal gap for those not covered under existing federal laws. This act extends the protections of the LHWCA, covering workers involved in oil, gas, and other mineral exploration and extraction. Eligible accidents must occur on structures connected to the subsea or subsoil of the continental shelf but not on vessels. Compensation includes medical expenses, lost wages, and, in cases of wrongful death, benefits to survivors.

The Public Vessels Act (PVA) – a federal law that allows individuals to hold the United States responsible for injuries or deaths caused by public vessels. Before the PVA, the U.S. Government had immunity in maritime cases, preventing injured workers from suing the government. Public vessels include those owned by the U.S. or used for public service, like ferries and Coast Guard ships. The act requires proof of negligence or unseaworthiness for a successful claim. Victims have a two-year statute of limitations to file a lawsuit, with certain pre-filing requirements within 18 months of the incident.

The Limitation of Liability Act – allows vessel owners to limit their liability in maritime personal injury or wrongful death cases, contingent on proving they lacked knowledge or involvement in the cause of the incident. Success under this Act means damages could be limited to the vessel’s post-voyage value and pending freight. Applicable to a variety of vessels, including cargo ships and crafts, this Act does not cover wage or maintenance disputes for injured seamen. Determining liability involves assessing whether the owner had control over the vessel and awareness of the circumstances leading to the claim.

Maritime Salvage – the recovery of ships and their cargo after a shipwreck, addressing situations where vessel owners and operators face danger at sea. The law of salvage is designed to encourage mariners to assist others in danger by offering rewards, ensuring that lives, ships, and cargo are saved.

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Types of Claims

Jones Act Negligence Claims – allows workers at sea to seek compensation if they get hurt because of their employer’s negligence. They can claim money for their injuries, lost wages, and more.

Third-Party Negligence Claims – allow maritime employees injured because of someone else’s negligence, like equipment failure or defective products, to seek damages. This legal action is distinct from claims against employers, targeting third-parties responsible for the injury. The process involves proving the third-party’s breach of duty that directly caused harm, enabling the injured maritime worker to recover damages.

Unseaworthiness Claims – refers to a vessel owner’s failure to provide a ship that is reasonably fit for its intended use, which doesn’t necessarily mean accident-free but must be adequately equipped and maintained for safety. This negligence can lead to civil claims by injured seamen seeking compensation. This includes not just the physical condition of the vessel but also includes adequate safety equipment and a competent crew. Maritime law requires that vessel owners ensure their ships meet these standards to prevent injuries, and when they don’t, affected seamen have the right to pursue legal action for their damages.

LHWCA Vessel Negligence Claims – these claims allow maritime employees, like longshoremen, to file lawsuits against vessel owners for negligence. This allows injured workers to pursue damages beyond workers’ compensation, covering lost wages, medical expenses, and pain and suffering. The claim hinges on proving the vessel owner’s failure to maintain a safe environment, directly causing the employee’s injuries.

Lost Wages – compensation for earnings lost by maritime workers unable to work because of injuries suffered on the job. This includes not only immediate lost wages but also future lost wages and lost earning capacity. Compensation also considers benefits like pension contributions and health insurance. Maritime workers, including seamen and dockworkers, can file for lost wages if injured while performing their duties. The process involves notifying the employer, documenting the injury and its impact on work capability, and may require legal action under maritime laws like the Jones Act. It’s designed to restore the financial status the injured worker would have had if not for the accident.

Maintenance and Cure – covers injured seamen’s living expenses and medical costs until they’ve recovered or reached maximum medical improvement. Despite this right, many maritime employers attempt to avoid or minimize these payments, leading to further hardships for the injured workers. Maintenance typically offers a daily living expense allowance, while cure covers all necessary medical expenses related to the injury or illness.

In Rem Claims Against Vessels – the legal process of arresting (seizing) a ship for claims under maritime liens under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and maritime law. When a party has a claim against a vessel, the U.S. Marshals can arrest it, and it is then held by a substitute custodian until resolved through a sale or return to the owner. These claims can arise from maritime activities, including unpaid wages, salvage operations, and damage or loss of cargo.

Immigration and Maritime Litigation – maritime employers often hire workers from around the world, from citizens to temporary visa holders, and even those without legal status. Foreign seamen injured on U.S. flagged vessels or those operating out of U.S. ports may pursue actions in U.S. courts under the Jones Act and U.S. maritime law, regardless of their citizenship or residency. U.S. law, including the Jones Act, does not require U.S. citizenship or residency for seaman status, allowing injured foreign seamen to seek justice and compensation in U.S. courts despite challenges, like dismissal motions on forum non conveniens grounds.

Marine Insurance Claim – covers death and injuries occurring on water, functioning similarly to liability insurance for personal injury. It tries to provide funds for recovery after an accident, though insurance companies often seek to minimize payouts. Injured maritime workers face challenges from insurance companies prioritizing profits over individuals’ well-being, requiring experienced maritime attorneys to ensure fair compensation. Claims may be denied or underpaid, acting in bad faith, which is illegal. A lawyer can help a victim fight for the rightful compensation, including reopening underpaid claims to obtain the necessary funds for covering damages.

Maritime Employment Contract Disputes – maritime employment often involves working under contracts for sailors, seamen, commercial fishermen, and other at-sea employees, potentially on a voyage-to-voyage basis. These contractual arrangements can lead to unique legal issues, particularly regarding where lawsuits must be filed after on-the-job injuries. Despite any contract terms, injured maritime workers retain their rights, including under the Jones Act and for maintenance and cure benefits. Determining an individual’s status as an employee versus an independent contractor is important in establishing these rights and ensuring proper compensation and legal protection in the event of workplace injuries.

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Who Can File a Maritime Injury Claim?

Under admiralty and maritime law, individuals who suffer injuries or harm in maritime environments can file a claim. This includes crew members, passengers, and other workers who are injured on ships, boats, offshore platforms, or docks.

Additionally, dockworkers and harbor employees who experience accidents or injuries while performing their duties related to maritime operations have the right to seek compensation. The law also applies to family members who can file claims on behalf of their loved ones in cases of fatal accidents or injuries.

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Who Could Be Liable to a Victim for an Injury?

Under admiralty and maritime law, several parties could be held liable for injuries suffered in maritime settings. The shipowner is often a primary target for liability, especially if the injury resulted from negligence in maintaining a safe vessel or operating conditions. Crew members or the captain could also be liable if their direct actions or negligence led to an injury.

Additionally, manufacturers of maritime equipment and machinery could be held responsible if an injury was caused by defective products. In cases involving port or dock injuries, the management of the maritime facility or third-party contractors might be liable. Maritime laws ensure that victims have the means to seek compensation from those responsible for creating unsafe conditions or failing to prevent accidents.

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How is Negligence Determined in a Maritime Injury Case?

In a maritime injury case, negligence is determined by examining whether the duty of care was breached by the employer or vessel owner, leading to the injury. This involves showing that the employer failed to provide a safe working environment or that the vessel was not seaworthy, directly causing harm to the worker. Evidence like maintenance records, witness statements, and expert testimony is used to prove negligence. The case must demonstrate that the injury could have been prevented if proper care had been taken.

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What is the Role of Insurance Companies?

Insurance companies play a significant role in the area of admiralty and maritime law, providing coverage for maritime risks, including injuries to crew members, damages from collisions, and liabilities for pollution. These companies assess the risks associated with maritime operations and offer insurance policies to ship owners, operators, and maritime employers to protect against potential losses.

When an injury or accident occurs, insurance companies are often involved in the settlement process, evaluating claims and determining compensation based on the terms of the insurance policy and applicable laws.

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What are Common Defenses Against Admiralty and Maritime Law Claims?

Common defenses against injury claims under admiralty and maritime law include arguing that the injury did not occur in a maritime setting or on navigable waters, falling outside the scope of admiralty jurisdiction. Defendants may also claim that the injured party was primarily at fault for their own injuries, either through negligence or failure to follow safety procedures.

Another defense is  “seaworthiness,” where a defendant might argue that the vessel was in a seaworthy condition at the time of the incident, shifting the focus away from their liability. Limitation of liability is another defense, where vessel owners can limit their financial liability to the value of the vessel after the incident.

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Are There Time Limits for Filing an Injury Claim?

Yes, there are time limits for filing an injury claim, known as statutes of limitations. These time limits vary depending on the specific law under which the claim is filed. For example, under the Jones Act, injured seamen typically have three years from the date of injury to file a lawsuit against their employer. Claims under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act must generally be filed within one year of the injury. It’s important for individuals seeking to file a claim to be aware of these deadlines, as failing to file within the period can result in the loss of the right to seek compensation.

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What Legal Options Does a Victim Have If Their Claim Is Denied?

If a victim’s claim is denied, they have several legal options. They can request a reconsideration of the claim, providing additional evidence or arguments to support their case. If the claim is still denied, the victim may appeal the decision through the court system. This process involves filing a lawsuit against the party considered responsible for their injuries or loss.

The case would then be subject to judicial review, where both sides can present evidence and arguments. During this legal process, mediation or settlement discussions can also occur, potentially leading to a resolution without a trial. It’s helpful for victims to seek the assistance of an attorney in these situations.

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First Steps

Seek Medical Attention: First and foremost, attend to any injuries by getting medical help immediately.

Report the Accident: Notify your supervisor or the shipowner about the accident as soon as you can.

Document the Scene: Take the time to document the accident scene and collect contact information from any witnesses.

Keep Medical Records: Preserve all medical records and receipts connected to the injury. These documents are crucial for any potential legal claims.

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What Does a Maritime Lawyer Do?

A maritime lawyer provides assistance to victims by offering legal guidance. These attorneys help clients understand their rights and the potential options for compensation. They prepare and file necessary legal documents, ensuring claims are submitted within legal deadlines and comply with specific procedural requirements of maritime law. A lawyer will also gather and analyze evidence to build a strong case, including medical records, witness statements, and expert testimony.

Additionally, these attorneys are skilled at negotiating with insurance companies to get reasonable settlements. If a case goes to trial, a lawyer will represent the victim in court, presenting the case effectively to get the best possible outcome. They can also appeal denied claims or unfavorable decisions, persisting through the legal challenges to seek justice for their clients.

In cases of long-term or permanent injuries, lawyers work to get compensation that covers medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages to support the victim’s future needs. By advocating on behalf of the victim, an admiralty and maritime lawyer plays a major role in handling the legal system, aiming to alleviate the burden on the victim and maximize the compensation received.

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Maritime Law Glossary

View BoatLaw LLP’s maritime glossary, which contains terms related to admiralty and maritime law, important for understanding the legal, procedural, and technical aspects of personal injury and wrongful death cases.

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Additional Resources

USDOL/OALJ Library — Seeking Solomon’s Wisdom: State Act, Longshore or Jones Act — Which to Choose?
This resource discusses the relationship between the Jones Act, LHWCA, and state workers’ compensation laws. It tries to clarify for maritime workers and their employers which legislation applies under certain circumstances.

Admiralty Jurisdiction and Maritime Law
This document, provided by NOAA, explains admiralty and maritime law in the United States. Admiralty law concerns the scope of federal courts’ jurisdiction over maritime issues, while maritime law involves the rules applied within this jurisdiction. Originally derived from British admiralty courts, U.S. maritime law has evolved to include international principles and concerns issues like salvage rights and dispute resolution.

About the Federal Maritime Commission
The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) is a U.S. government agency that oversees the nation’s international ocean transportation. Its mission is to ensure a competitive, efficient ocean transport system that benefits the U.S. economy and protects consumers from unfair practices. The FMC regulates agreements among ocean carriers, reviews service contracts, provides dispute resolution services, and monitors foreign shipping practices.

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Hire an Admiralty Law Attorney

Admiralty law is a specialized area of study that covers all aspects of maritime work. A dedicated admiralty lawyer helps victims receive the compensation they deserve.

Call 1 (800) 262-8529 to secure an initial consultation.

We litigate maritime cases across the country from our offices in AlaskaWashingtonOregon, and California. We handle cases that occur in the Pacific Ocean, Bering Sea, Coos Bay, The Columbia River, Grays Harbor, Port Angeles, Lake Tahoe, Dutch Harbor, and the Gulf of Alaska.

Do not settle for less than what your case is worth.

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