Specialized Law: How Maritime Lawyers Can Help You

by Ladyblogger on January 10, 2013

Maritime and admiralty law is a specialized field of law that touches on a broad number of subjects. Maritime cases can involve issues normally covered by various fields of law, including contract, property, and tort law. Yet, admiralty law is distinct from all of these fields as it involves acts outside the territorial boundaries of any particular nation. Maritime law technically addresses matters within a nation’s territorial waters, but it is common for individuals to refer to both maritime law in reference to both admiralty and maritime law. Physical injuries at sea are particularly problematic for both plaintiffs and defendants.

Claims for Damaged or Lost Cargo

Maritime lawyers are useful in the event that cargo fails to reach its destination. Shippers are liable for their cargo when moving it from port to port. Contents moving around in containers can become damaged, containers themselves can become damaged or lost, and in rare cases, the ship can sink and lose all of its cargo. In the absence of an exception, liability for these losses rests with the shipper and its insurer. However, if the cargo had no declared value, the shipper’s liability is limited to $500 per container.

Physical Injuries for Workers at Sea

Maritime law provides recourse for workers who are injured at sea. Workers’ compensation does not generally exist for seamen, but workers who are injured are entitled to maintenance and cure if that injury did not arise from their own gross negligence. This means that the ship owner must provide them with medical care and accommodations for the duration of the voyage.

Some tort concepts have been extended beyond nation’s borders. The Merchant Marine Act of 1920 provided employees with an ability to sue the ship’s owner and its captain for negligence if an injury results. Among other things, negligence requires that the defendant or one of his agents owed the plaintiff a duty of care and breached that duty. This encompasses a broader category of acts than the doctrine of unseaworthiness. For deaths sustained as a result of an injury suffered at sea, plaintiffs may also sue for wrongful death under the Death on the High Seas Act of 1920.

Physical Injuries for Guests at Sea

Physical injuries present unique challenges for guests at sea. On land, a plaintiff may file suit against a negligent party or a party who commits an intentional tort. At sea, this option generally does not exist. Workers may sue because a vessel is not seaworthy or they may sue under the Merchant Marine Act of 1920. Guests aboard vessels have far fewer statutory protections. However, it may be possible for some guests to file a lawsuit in limited circumstances.

However, if cruise ship passengers had no recourse against malicious or negligent staff actions while at sea, no passenger would ever board a cruise ship. As a result, some vessel operators such as cruise lines will allow themselves to be sued in a specific jurisdiction for a specific time for specific acts that arise while the vessel is out at sea. The agreement between the passenger and the ship’s owner or his agents controls the litigation. This includes the venue, the permissible time to file a case, the permissible time to file an initial notice requirement, and limitations of liability.

These are just a few of the common matters addressed by maritime and admiralty lawyers. The maritime lawyers may handle any matter from lien enforcement to a small boating accident; litigators and transactional attorneys will handle different types of cases. Some attorneys specialize in either admiralty law or maritime law, but not both. Litigation may involve several different parties located in several different countries with multiple causes of action. Liability is also limited by statute and can be further limited by agreement. Plaintiffs bringing maritime cases are bound by a relatively short statute of limitations. Anyone who suffers an injury at sea should contact a maritime lawyer as soon as possible.

Anthony Joseph is a freelance author, and contributes this article for the good of educating others on the specialized maritime laws. The maritime lawyers of the Doyle Raizner firm, represent these injured workers on an often basis. These laws are a complex area that’s governed by a number of different federal statutes. Their firm has handled numerous maritime law cases.

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