A Basic Introduction to Maritime Law

Our oceans and seas remain a vital artery of travel and shipping. Once considered treacherous because of pirates and the simple engineering of the ships that sailed it on long voyages, today its dangers revolve around cruise ships, undersea work, floating oil rigs, fisheries and salvage work. Many injuries occur during the course of these dangerous ocean voyages, necessitating the involvement of a maritime lawyer.

Maritime Law
The area of maritime law, also called admiralty law, extends to a diverse set of topics and draws upon its own <a href=“https://www.maritimeinjuryguide.org/maritime-rights-compensation/maritime-law/”>federal laws and international law</a>. This unique area of law covers accidents, cargo, goods transportation, maritime injuries, passenger transportations, personal injuries and shipping.

It is an area of specialty practice within law. Some of the regulations governing this area a maritime lawyer studies include:
•    The Jones Act,
•    The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA),
•    Death on High Seas Act.
The legal concepts of maintenance and cure and passenger personal injury also apply.

About the Laws
In personal injury cases, the circumstances determine which common law, international law or federal law applies. Some laws apply to workers, others to passengers.

Legal Concepts: Maintenance and Cure
Workers injured at sea while working typically qualify for maintenance and cure benefits. These benefits pay for their medical expenses and daily living expenses incurred while the worker recovers. This includes mortgage or rent payments, food, utilities and taxes. It excludes items like the cable TV or Internet bills. Once your physician certifies you to return to work, the benefits end.

The Law: Jones Act
The Jones Act covers injuries caused to a worker at sea by the negligence of another party. This law lowers the burden of proof for the worker. Damages may include medical expenses, pain, suffering, lost wages, disfigurement, if it applies and lost earning capacity. Award amounts depend on the severity of the damages. Typical Jones Act negligence items include:

  • out-of-date or malfunctioning equipment parts
  • spills on the ship’s deck
  • improper employee training
  • assault from a co-worker
  • not providing proper safety equipment
  • overworking employees
  • not hanging proper warning and hazard signage

The Law: The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA)
Rather than use standard worker’s compensation, maritime law uses the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation program. It compensates workers injured while working on and around areas adjacent to navigable waters and on navigable waters. That means it applies to dock workers and ship mechanics, too. It provides employees with 66 2/3 percent of their weekly wages while they recover from injury. It also compensates employees for permanent disabilities such as loss of limbs and/or bodily organs. Widowed spouses receive 50 percent of the worker’s pay using the Secretary of State’s national average as a scale.

The Law: Death on High Seas Act (DOHSA)
A worker’s death may also be covered by The Death on High Seas Act (DOHSA) of 1920. If a maritime accident occurs more than three miles from US shores that causes the death of a worker, DOHSA applies to the case. The spouse, child or dependent relative of the deceased must file the claim. The damages are calculated according to the compensation the maritime worker would have earned in a normal career time frame. If a worker had children, damages also compensate for the missing care and guidance. A 2000 Congressional amendment provides “pecuniary damages for the loss of comfort and companionship,” for spouses lost as a result of a commercial airplane crash occurring after July 16, 1996.

Legal Concepts: Passenger Personal Injury
Maritime law protects passengers, too. Cruise ship passengers injured while at sea may sue the ship owner, if an accident occurs due to negligence by a ship owner or crew.

Legal Jurisdiction
Federal courts hear all maritime legal matters. A federal court may grant the right for a party to file a maritime lawsuit in a state court. At the federal level, lawsuits may use joint and several liability, but not typically at the state level.

 

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