Maritime law, often called admiralty law, is a set of legal rules and practices governing the business of employment and transportation of people and goods over or near navigable waters. If you have been injured while employed by a vessel or while you were a social guest on a vessel, it is important to consult an attorney to help you understand what conditions must be met to apply maritime law.
“Navigable waters” is a legal term describing all waters that are capable of transporting people or cargo between the states and other countries. Inland lakes, even sizable ones, not connecting to an interstate waterway or to the open sea do not meet this test. As a matter of law, the open sea and waterways used for interstate commerce (such as rivers) are navigable waters.
For an incident to trigger maritime jurisdiction, it must have created a potential hazard to interstate commerce and there must be a sufficient relationship between the incident and traditional maritime activities.
Maritime law applies to the operation of most types of vessels, from the largest ocean-going cargo vessels and cruise ships, to much smaller fishing vessels and personal watercraft. It also applies to more than accidents; it governs employment issues (such as wage and labor disputes, or discrimination and harassment claims), insurance disputes, maritime property damage, loss of cargo, damage to shore-side property by vessels, repairers of vessels, fishing rights, and other issues.
People who make their living working on boats and qualify as “seamen” have special remedies available to them. Congress enacted the Maritime Marine Act of 1920, commonly known as the “Jones Act,” which provides substantial benefits to seamen injured at sea.
The Jones Act
Boating accidents may injure workers on a boat or ship. The Jones Act is a federal law that extends the provisions of the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) to a maritime setting. Where the FELA provides remedies for injured workers on land, the Jones Act provides similar remedies and protections to seamen.
There is no need for an injured crewmember to prove the seaworthiness of a vessel in a Jones Act claim, but if that crewmember can prove negligence by the employer, then he or she may recover damages for pain, suffering, disability and future medical benefits.
The Death on the High Seas Act
The Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) is a federal statute that creates a cause of action for a spouse, dependent, or family member of an individual who has been killed on the high seas due to a wrongful act, negligence or disrepair. For more information, see 46 U.S.C.A. § 30302. Under federal law, the “high seas” are considered those beyond three nautical miles from the United States shore. The surviving family of deceased crewmembers may seek compensation for financial losses they have suffered due to the deaths of their loved ones. If multiple individuals (a spouse and surviving children, for example) have suffered losses, the court will apportion the amount of compensation in accordance to the amount of loss suffered by each individual. Under DOHSA you have, absent exigent circumstances, three years from the time the death occurred to bring your claim for compensation.
Speak to a personal injury lawyer
Maritime or admiralty law is federal law covering crewmembers on seagoing vessels that differs significantly from the state laws governing personal injury claims. For seamen injured on the job, their claims under the Jones Act are not the same as typical workers’ compensation claims. If you are the victim of a maritime accident, you may be entitled to compensation for your injury. It is important to contact an experienced maritime law attorney to determine your possible claims and discuss your legal rights under maritime law.
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