US Maritime and Admiralty Law

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If you have a case involving a claim related to maritime workers compensation for seamen and longshoremen, cruise ship passenger injury or death or damage to cargo, you should immediately contact a maritime accident lawyer who specializes in admiralty and maritime law in the United States.

Admiralty Law

Admiralty law, also called maritime law, governs incidents, including contracts, torts, injuries and offenses that occur on navigable waters both in the United States and the oceans of the world.  Thus, it applies to seamen, barge workers, boat operators, passengers and crewmen on ships, yachts and recreational boats. It also applies to many commercial land-based activities, such as off-shore oil drilling, that are maritime in nature. While the traditional domain of maritime and admiralty law was the ocean, it has been extended to cover all public navigable waters. These include rivers, streams, and large lakes.    

Under Article III, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, federal courts have original jurisdiction over all matters related to admiralty law.  In particular, cases related to shipowners' liability, vessel arrests, property arrests, and possession actions must be heard in federal courts. While other maritime cases, such as claims for personal injuries, cargo damage, and maritime products liability may be heard in state courts, federal maritime laws still apply, even if they conflict with state statues.    

While maritime law generally is governed by a uniform three-year statute of limitations for cases involving personal injury or wrongful death, claims related to the loss or damage of cargo must be filed within one year. Major cruise ship passenger tickets often set a statute of limitations of six months to one year.    

The most common admiralty or maritime cases include the following.    

Maritime Workers Compensation

Under the principle of maintenance and cure, the doctrine of unseaworthiness and the Jones Act, seamen injured aboard ship have the right to fully paid medical treatment until maximum medical recovery is obtained. They also have a right to basic living expenses until completion of the voyage, even if they are no longer aboard ship.    

Similarly, the Longshore; Harbor Workers' Compensation Act provides for the payment of compensation for the disability or death of employees injured while performing work that is maritime in nature. This would include injuries that happen on a pier, wharf, dry dock, terminal building, or other areas customarily used in loading, unloading, repairing or building ships.   

Cruise Ship Injury or Wrongful Death

Shipowners owe a duty of reasonable care to passengers. Therefore, passengers who suffer injuries aboard ships may file suit the same as if they were injured on land, owing to the negligence of a third party. While the statute of limitations for filing suits for injury or wrongful death is usually three years, suits against cruise ship injuries usually must be filed within one year, owing to limitations contained in the passenger’s ticket. Cruise line passenger tickets may also contain provisions requiring that suit be brought in a particular state, such as Florida or Washington.

Cargo and Shipping

Claims for damage to cargo are governed by the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act, which is the U.S. enactment of the Hague Rules. One of its key features is that a shipping company is liable for cargo damaged from "hook to hook," meaning from the time it is loaded until it is delivered, unless the case falls under one of 17 specific exceptions to liability, such as an "act of God."    

Getting Legal Help

Admiralty or maritime law is a highly specialized area. Thus, it is important to consult with an attorney who has expertise and experience in this field. Such an attorney will be best able to help you navigate the system and protect your interests. 

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