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Many people living in Florida or any other state bordering the oceans have probably heard of maritime law, but very people know what it is or what it covers. Cornell Law School has created a definition that states that “Admiralty law or maritime law is the distinct body of law (both substantive and procedural) governing navigation and shipping.”
Maritime law comes into play when there has been an injury or damage to one’s property while at sea. Meaning, for the purpose of the legal status of a claim, you are not in a state but considered “at sea” when the accident occurs. Maritime law can come into play on docks, wharves, and piers, as well as on boats.
Whether you are on a charter boat for a deep-sea fishing trip, taking a cruise on a ship, or an employee on a shipping or fishing vessel, maritime law would cover any injuries or damages sustained. Having an understanding of maritme law and knowing your rights as a passenger or employee of a vessel at sea is very important.
Maritime law is governed under the Federal Court System
Title 27, § 1333, gives federal courts jurisdiction over all maritime laws and claims. The right to file a maritime lawsuit in the appropriate state court can be given under the federal statute. Federal maritime law also allows seaman to file what is known as “joint and several liability.” In short, that means that more than one party can be sued for damages, regardless of how small their contribution to the cause of the injuries.
How did maritime law develop?
Most maritime laws combine ancient doctrines with relatively recent laws. The reason the ancient doctrines are still used, and influence today’s maritime laws, is because the hazards of being at sea remain the same. Despite all of our modern advancements, the sea is still a dangerous place, and those dangers have changed little over time.
England has always been a major influence in maritime laws. Most of these English laws regarding shipping and admiralty were carried to the United States, and are now integrated into our laws regarding maritime events.
What sort of injuries or damage does maritime law cover?
Maritime issues of law are heard by Federal Courts. Claims that take place in international waters usually involve a combination of U.S. law and any other international laws which govern claims rooted in torts, contracts, and other offenses. Potential claims which are covered by maritime law include accidents involving:
- Commercial shipping boats
- Errors by a commercial vessel owner
- Criminal acts at sea
- Contractual issues
- Spills and contamination by an oceangoing vessel
- Employees who are injured or killed on a commercial vessel
- Labor relation disputes
The statute of limitations and other essential governances in maritime law
In maritime matters, the statutes of limitations that apply are very different from the general statute of limitations in other matters of the state courts. Under the Death on the High Sea Act, if someone is killed at sea, the family or other interested parties have three years to make a claim.
Under the Longshore Harbor and Workers Compensation Act, if someone intends to bring an injury claim, the must do so within one year of the incident giving rise to the claim. The Jones Act governs personal injury claims. These claims must be filed within three years of the accident giving rise to the injury, or within three years of the time person knew or should have known of the injury.
Maintenance and Cure
Seamen have a special entitlement when injured during work. Maintenance and Cure are benefits assured to seamen regardless of how or when the accident happened, given that the accident occurred while the seaman was at work at the time of the accident
Because many seamen live and work on shipping vessels and cruise ships, the law recognizes that they will need an allowance for daily living expenses during their recovery. This allowance covers items such as rent, utilities, food, and taxes. All these things are typically provided to seamen while they work at sea, so they must be provided to injured workers as they recover.
Maintenance and Cure are limited and include no luxuries such as the cost of the internet, or the cost of transportation, as those are not considered necessities.
Cure provides the coverage of medical expenses incurred due to the injury. Cure will cover all initial treatment, ongoing doctor visits, rehabilitation, examinations, and any specialized medical equipment that is needed.
Cruise line passenger cases are handled a little differently. Many cruise lines have their passengers contract away from the three-year statute of limitations and instead apply a one-year statute of limitations. Failure to bring a claim against a cruise line within this one-year time window can result in a dismissal of your claim.
What types of things can I be compensated for in a maritime case?
Different types of damages can be covered under a maritime injury settlement. The types of costs you are awarded will depend on the injuries you sustained, and the time it takes for recovery. The most common items for which compensation is awarded include:
- Pain and suffering
- Mental and emotional anguish
- Permanent or long-term disability
- Loss of earnings, including the loss or reduction of future earning capacity
- Medical bills, past, present and future
- Living expenses
Working at sea has long been recognized as a potentially hazardous career. When an injury does happen, it is far too common for a worker to realize they will never be able to work at sea again. For those who have spent their lives earning a living from the sea, it can be a devastating loss. Not only do they have to deal with the physical toll of their injuries, but working at sea is a way of life. Being forced to walk away from your entire lifestyle and career leaves workers feeling a tremendous loss.
The sea is also dangerous for those who only use the oceans for recreational adventures. Vacationers to places like Florida rarely realize that when they step foot on a charter boat for a day of fishing the beautiful waters of our state they leave the protection of state laws behind. Instead, if an accident happens during their day of fun and leisure, it will most often be covered under maritime law.
Cruise ship passengers rarely realize the same thing. Though they are sailing to different ports around the globe, they presume they are governed by the laws of the state where they boarded the ship. It is not until something goes wrong that they realize their accident and injury fall under maritime law jurisdiction, frequently combined with international laws as well.
Before leaving the land, it is essential that you realize the ocean is a different place with a different set of rules and laws. The Lopez Law Group is ready and willing to help you understand your rights and potential remedies under maritime law. If you were injured during a recreational excursion covered under maritime law, we can help you understand your rights, and an initial consultation is free.
Do you need an attorney to pursue a maritime case?
Injuries and damages that occur at sea, or are otherwise covered under maritime laws, can become quite complicated in the legal realm. The various laws and regulations which influence these cases can make it overwhelming, if not impossible, to pursue a case on your own.
If you were injured at sea or otherwise under maritime law, you need an attorney experienced with the intricacies of maritime law to help you resolve the legal claim. The Lopez Law Group offers a free consultation for maritime claims. We can help determine if your case has legal merit, and if it does, we stand ready and willing to represent you. As personal injury attorneys, with years of experience in Florida, we are fluent in maritime law and can help you fight to recover the damages to which you are entitled.
Most maritime personal injury claims can be settled out of court without the expense of a trial. However, that doesn’t mean it is easy. Settlement in maritime cases comes with its own set of issues and complications. You do not want to enter into settlement negotiations without the benefit of legal counsel, or you risk being short-changed on the compensation you deserve.
When you have suffered an injury, you have enough to worry about in seeking treatment and healing from your injuries. If you are unable to work due to the injuries you sustained, it adds another level of stress to an already difficult situation. Reach out to the Lopez Law Group so that we can begin the process of starting your claim.
Schedule your free consultation by calling (727) 933-0015. We know that dealing with injuries at sea can be trying, and we stand ready and willing to assist. Call us today!
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