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Legal Guide To Maritime Law

Legal Guide To Maritime Law

The purpose of maritime law is to govern private, international, and domestic nautical matters. More specifically, these laws protect maritime workers who have sustained injuries and allow them to claim damages and certain benefits. We examine the different types of maritime laws, how they protect maritime workers, and where to find an offshore injury lawyer if you've been injured on the job.

The Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act
This program compensates maritime workers who have become injured while working on or near navigable waters. Specific locations covered by this act include cargo vessel loading and unloading areas, pier and deck work sites, and ship repair spaces.

Any worker, whether employed as a shipbreaker, harbor worker, recreational vessel worker, or office and retail employee, is covered under this act. However, employees eligible for state compensation or benefits are excluded from coverage under the act.

Those who wish to make a claim under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act have one year from the date of their injury to do so, but this statute of limitations can also begin after an employer stops paying compensation and benefits. However, those who qualify for compensation under this act are advised to file a formal claim within the one-year time limit, even if they're being paid by their employer while injured.

The injuries commonly covered under this act include permanent disability, death, and loss of organs or limbs. Compensation for injuries continues for as long as an injured worker is recovering, and it is paid each week. Employees receive just over 66% of their weekly wages.

Maintenance and Cure

For maritime workers, this particular law offers protection in the event of illness or injury sustained while on the job, no matter who was at fault or how the accident occurred. Another important aspect of this law is that it provides injured workers, whose employers' compensation may not be enough, with sufficient funds to survive and pay their expenses. Maintenance and Cure is a general maritime law that states that maritime workers are entitled to be compensated for their expenses in terms of:
  • Maintenance - Daily living expenses, including food, clothing, and shelter
  • Cure - Any medical expenses related to the injury sustained
The Maintenance portion of the law provides injured maritime workers with compensation until they've achieved medical recovery. However, this compensation extends only to necessities required for daily life, not luxury items like internet connectivity or entertainment.

The Cure portion of the law mandates that employers are responsible for the payment of any and all medical expenses associated with an employee's injury. These expenses can range from doctor and hospital bills to prescriptions and CT scans and surgery, to transportation to and from doctor appointments, to needed medical equipment like crutches.

Although this portion of maritime law is meant to help maritime workers with their medical expenses until such time as they've reached full recovery and/or can return to work, some employers try to avoid payment by rushing the process and causing workers to resume working before they're fully recovered.

Death On the High Seas Act
The Death On the High Seas Act or DOHSA provides compensation to families of maritime workers who perished on a vessel at a distance of three or more nautical miles from shore. Enacted in 1920, DOHSA now provides compensation for monetary losses, as well as that for mental anguish and trauma associated with the loss of a family member. As well, it was amended in 2000 to include compensation for aircraft incidents that claimed these workers' lives.

Getting compensation under DOHSA can be a highly complex process, as the amount awarded in compensation is determined by calculating the amount of loss incurred without the income of the deceased maritime worker.

The vessels covered under this act include:

  • Cruise ships
  • Ferries
  • Tour boats
  • Oil rigs
  • Commercial fishing boats
Distance from shore is only one of two factors under which a family can be compensated under this act. The death of a loved one while at sea must either be recognized as wrongful, neglectful, or a result of default, and the charges laid as such. Each maritime personal injury case is individual, and a wide range of negligence can be alleged.

For example, an employer may not have provided proper medical training or may have failed to provide sufficient medical care to the deceased employee. A vessel may have overturned or experienced an explosion that caused an employee's death.

Unfortunately, shipping companies have attempted to avoid taking monetary responsibility for families of deceased seafarers by attempting to use DOHSA to their advantage.

The Jones Act
The Jones Act is a federal law that provides seamen or "individuals engaged or employed in any capacity on board a vessel" with compensation for their injuries while on the job. It addresses issues related to the transport of goods or people between ports in the same country and maritime commerce. It also protects sailors from being exploited by employers.

Under the Jones Act, an employer must maintain a safe environment for their employees and provide them with medical care. It also includes standards for the maintenance of vessels and safety equipment, as well as licensing, training, and qualifications that crews must meet. This act, like the Death On the High Seas Act, requires proof that another party's negligence caused these injuries.

Seafaring employees have three years from the date of their injury to file a lawsuit. If this does not occur, their case can be dismissed. Common charges filed under the Jones Act range from the unseaworthiness of equipment masters, crew, or the vessel itself to punitive damages and wrongful death.

In order to qualify as a seaman under the Jones Act, an employee must spend no less than 30% of their time on board the vessel on which they work, but this amount is not absolute; a Jones Act attorney is the best person to consult if you feel you may qualify for compensation.

Passenger Personal Injury

Although not meant to provide coverage for maritime employees, the Passenger Personal Injury law is a maritime law. Passenger Personal Injury protects passengers on vessels, including cruise ships, should they become injured while at sea. Under this law, a passenger can file a lawsuit against a shipowner if they believe that shipowner to be negligent.

So, for example, if a passenger on a cruise ship breaks their arm as the result of a broken stair rail, they can sue. However, as a cruise ship passenger, they may only have one year to file their lawsuit, as opposed to the typical three years that passengers on other vessels would have.

Navigating Maritime Law

Although the majority of maritime law exists to protect seafaring employees from injury while on the job, not having a lawyer experienced in maritime injury cases can cost you more in terms of monetary loss. In order to ensure you have the best

The purpose of maritime law is to govern private, international, and domestic nautical matters. More specifically, laws like the Jones Act protect seamen's rights after an injury and allow them to claim damages and certain benefits. Let's examine the different types of maritime laws, when they apply, how they protect someone who works on a vessel, and where to find an offshore injury lawyer if you've been injured on the job.

Admiralty Law or Maritime Law?

Maritime law is admiralty law, and the two terms are used interchangeably. British admiralty courts were influential to the development of maritime law in the United States. Congress and the Supreme Court place responsibility for maritime cases with federal district courts. Their proceedings are separate and different from how cases are judged when the actions took place on land.

Since ancient times, there has been a traditional Law of the Sea that places responsibility for injured seamen on the vessel owner specifically. For example, ship owners are required to provide "maintenance and cure" following an injury aboard a vessel, which includes medical care and living expenses until the sailor can return to duty.

Over time, new maritime laws have been added that further define who qualifies as a seaman and what remedies are available to those workers. Before we cover those, let's outline when and where maritime or admiralty law applies.

When Does US Admiralty Law Apply?

Under international admiralty laws, the flag a ship flies determines which country's maritime laws apply. The vessel and crew must comply with the laws of the nation under whose flag they operate.Maritime law applies not only to ocean ships but to any vessel in a navigable waterway.

Any party (company or individual) who is subject to admiralty law can not be sued or file a complaint outside of admiralty courts, and other courts are not allowed to infringe on admiralty courts with legislative action or by overturning their decisions. In a few limited cases, states may have concurrent jurisdiction, but these are very rare.

How Far Out to Sea Do a Country's Laws Extend?

Each nation with a coastline has "territorial waters" in which the local laws apply. These may vary by nation, but the largest areas are usually controlled by maritime countries, meaning those that are surrounded by water on all sides.

Maritime nations have:

  • Territorial waters that extend up to 12 miles from their shore
  • The right to forbid sea passage or air travel through this area
  • The right to limit fishing or natural resource extraction within its waters
  • The right to an exclusive economic zone or EEZ to a distance of 200 miles out to sea, with control of sea life and mineral resources inside this area
Beyond any nation's territorial waters are the high seas. Outside of the control of any land-based legal jurisdiction, the maritime laws of a flagged vessel's country will apply.

Who Legally Qualifies as a Seaman?
Many places in maritime law the word "seaman" is used to mean maritime worker. Landmark cases have defined who has seaman status and is entitled to the protections it offers. To qualify, a maritime worker must:
  • Spend a significant amount of time working on a vessel.
  • The vessel they work on must be "in navigation," meaning it must be:
  • In operation
  • Capable of moving
  • Afloat
  • In navigable waters
  • Contribute to the function of the vessel or to its mission.
Dock and harbor workers who do not spend significant time working onboard a ship may not be considered seamen under the law. However, many individuals who work on board a floating vessel are considered "seamen." Bartenders, cooks, and casino employees may enjoy the same protections as the crew of a fishing ship.

Maritime Laws That Protect Injured Seamen
While maritime workers have basic protections under ancient admiralty laws, there are specific acts that have been added to help workers and their families when a personal injury or death at sea occurs. This list outlines the basic rights of maritime workers under the law.

Claims of Unsea worthiness
Prior to modern compensation acts, the only time a maritime worker had a claim against a ship owner, beyond maintenance and cure, was if the vessel was deemed unseaworthy. The law requires the ship owner to provide a seaworthy vessel, which has:
  • A hull, equipment, and design adequate for its intended use
  • An adequate crew in numbers and level of training to operate the vessel

Just because a ship breaks down does not mean it is unseaworthy. However, if the ship and equipment are not properly maintained, or the captain and crew cannot operate it safely, it may be found unseaworthy.

The ship's owner has an "absolute duty" to provide a seaworthy vessel. In injury cases involving an unseaworthy boat, the ship owner may be held liable for compensation beyond maintenance and cure.

Laws of Piracy
Pirates commit robbery or kidnapping on the high seas, outside of the jurisdiction of land-based courts. Because this type of crime puts international trade, shipping, and passenger travel at risk, it is historically punished severely. No matter what flag a pirate ship flies, it may be seized, brought to port, and the crew tried for the crime of piracy, no matter their nationality or citizenship.3

International crimes that can be tried by any country or international organization under the laws of piracy include: 3
  • Theft of a vessel
  • Kidnapping with demand of ransom
  • Human trafficking
  • Unlawful warfare
  • Mutiny

Common Personal Injuries at Sea
One of the reasons that there are so many legal protection acts for seamen is the inherently dangerous nature of working at sea. Some of the most common types of injuries that might cause a legal action under these protective maritime laws include: 4,5
  • Slips, trips, and falls, which can occur more often under slippery deck conditions and heavy seas
  • Man overboard accidents that can happen when railings or safety equipment or procedures are inadequate
  • Burn injuries from hot equipment, steam, fluids, or engines
  • Back, neck, or head injuries from swinging or falling equipment, lines, or shifting cargo
  • Asphyxiation or poisoning from breathing toxic gases in enclosed spaces
  • Chemical burns or inhalation injuries caused by cleaning agents or operational chemicals
  • Electrocution and electrical injuries, which can be even more likely in wet environments
  • Injuries related to loading and unloading cargo or moving heavy equipment on deck
  • Severe injuries and drownings that result from fishing lines, nets, or hooks catching and dragging crew members
  • Severe reactions from contact with poisonous or venomous sea creatures
  • Diving accidents during ship repair or inspection
  • Loss of an eye, finger, or limb due to traumatic injuries common to all dangerous work environments
  • Complications of illness or injury due to lack of timely or qualified medical care
Navigating Maritime Law
Although the majority of maritime law exists to protect seafaring employees from injury while on the job, not having a lawyer experienced in maritime injury cases can cost you more in terms of monetary loss. In order to ensure you have the best possible chance at compensation for your injuries while at sea, a specialist in maritime law is the type of attorney to seek.

In addition to helping you get enough compensation to meet your financial obligations, an attorney experienced in the Jones Act and other facets of maritime law can also thwart the attempts your employer may make to avoid having to compensate you for the injuries you sustained while on the job.

Award Winning Article Is Written By: Mr.Tanmay Vijay
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Authentication No: AP346631432725-10-0423

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