Maritime law, also called “Admiralty law” covers the relationship between private individuals or entities involved in maritime, seagoing or ocean-based commerce. It includes sailors, fishermen, ship workers and passengers of vessels operating on the oceans.
Maritime law is governed differently from traditional land-based injury and liability laws and violations often must be redressed in federal court. Seeking compensation for injury or illness suffered while at sea requires an attorney experienced in Maritime law.
Ship Owners and Operators Responsibility
Owners and operators of ships or sea-going vessels have a responsibility to provide adequate safety protections. The vessel must be seaworthy and must be crewed with appropriate numbers of adequately trained workers. Provision of an adequately maintained and crewed ship does not always limit the liability of a ship owner when a crew member, worker or passenger becomes ill or is injured as under Maritime law, the operator or owner may still carry responsibility.
Sailors, Fishermen and other Ship Workers
Maritime law requires that ship owners and operators must provide adequate care, treatment and compensation if a worker is injured or becomes ill while at sea. Seamen, sailors or ship workers become ill or who are injured aboard ship and are not afforded their rights under Maritime law have options for compensation for their illness or injury.
Principal of Maintenance and Cure
Maritime law states that a ship-owner has the obligation to “cure” which means that the seaman who is injured in the service of a ship must be given medical care, free of charge until a “maximum medical cure” has been effected. The obligation of maintenance means that in addition to medical treatments including pain medications, prostheses and disability aids, the ship-owner must also provide basic living expenses while convalescing. A seaman who must sue the ship-owner to obtain his rights under Maritime law is also entitled to payment of his attorney’s fees.
Doctrine of Unseaworthiness
The ship owner or operator owe sea workers the duty to operate a “seaworthy” vessel. This means that the operator must provide a reasonably safe environment. All parts of the vessel must be in safe, working order and the ship must be adequately crewed which includes enough workers with appropriate training and proper safety procedures and precautions should be in place. Injuries that occur due to unseaworthiness can be addressed under this doctrine and may allow for additional recover if it can be proven that a ship owner or operator was negligent.
The Jones Act
For seamen, sailors and ship workers who spend more than 51 percent of his time on a vessel in navigable waters, the Jones Act is legislation that made “Maritime law” a federal obligation. The Jones Act deals with injuries and illnesses that occur out on the water. It means that if you were injured or became ill while on the water, you are entitled to recovery – no matter who is at fault. You do not have to prove guilt or unseaworthiness.
Under the Jones Act, a worker who was injured or became ill during the service of an ocean-going vessel is entitled to the rights granted under Maritime Law including maintenance, cure and unearned wages.
Maintenance is given as a daily stipend or allotment to cover room and board while recovering and is required from the time the voyage has ended until the time of “maximum cure” is reached. Maximum cure must be determined by medical professionals. Maintenance rates may be set by employment contract or through agreement with the company but in some cases may be increased if actual expenses exceed the contracted amount.
Medical cure should include payment for medical expenses including medications, treatments, prosthesis and other medical necessities until a time of “maximum” improvement is reached. In other words, at the time that added medical treatments will not make the injury or illness better.
Unearned wages is the amount of money that would have been earned if an injury had not occurred. This would be until the end of the voyage, the contract or the end of the normal pay period. It may be necessary to consult with other crewmembers to find out what others earned during the same time period.
Benefits under the Jones act and Maritime Law allow for basic remedies but additional benefits may be awarded if it can be proven that an employer or ship owner was negligent or that another crew member was at fault.