When Should I Hire a Maritime Attorney?

Maritime law, otherwise known more formally as admiralty law, references those specific laws of both international and national jurisdiction, including those relevant to bilateral relations among nations, as they relate to navigable waters. In practice, modern maritime law addresses a number of sub-specialty areas draw from traditional legal fields, but applies appropriate and applicable admiralty laws to a given case or claim. These areas of maritime law are frequently practiced as sub-practice specializations for maritime or admiralty law counsel, including:

  • Maritime contracts law, including vessel purchases, maritime freight transactions of cargo, maritime business litigation, and consumer litigation emanating from cruise ship or passenger vessel tort claims
  • Maritime workplace injuries or employment related claims for seamen via Jones Act Claims
  • Maritime vessel insurance, vessel salvage, and vessel defense against liability claims
  • Maritime legal practice relating to seizure of vessels, maritime liens, and maritime shipping brokerage

Brief Overview of Maritime Law in the United States

In its most universal sense, maritime law governs any transaction or engagement within the jurisdiction of the sea, as well as navigable domestic waterways. Given the geographic scope of the law, variations amongst nations do occur, however, most nations have agreed to a number of international conventions and treaties on the appropriate use and shared use of the high seas. In the case of international maritime law, and as well as US domestic maritime law, transactions such as overseas shipping, trans-ocean navigation, international commerce, recreational boating, crimes upon the high seas, environmental regulatory compliance consultation, and seaman’s compensation claims are frequent areas of practice in contemporary maritime law.

Though not universally, per Constitutional language, admiralty law is the domain of the federal judiciary, or in short, the majority of maritime law cases are filed in federal district court jurisdiction, with a few possible state-specific exceptions. Depending on the maritime law case and jurisdiction, most federal admiralty cases do not permit for decision by jury. Moreover, a large body of maritime and admiralty law revolves around resolving seaman personal injury complaints against employers via a process established under the Jones Act, which may also restrict the opportunity to a jury trial for claimants.

Key Cases in US Maritime Law and the Related Legal Theory

  • The Jones Act: Otherwise known as the Merchant Marine Act, the Jones Act is Congressional law mandating and defining the rights of maritime workers to safe and reasonable employment conditions, including defining the jurisdiction and procedural process for filing seamen’s work-related personal injury compensation claims
  • The Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act: This law saw the further expansion of maritime worker and maritime employment injury compensation benefits to seamen, dock workers, and others tangentially related to the maritime industry
  • Carriage of Goods by Sea Act: A further universalization of the assignment and process for liability sharing and resolution in international maritime commerce as part of a broader international treaty
  • The Blackwell: historical Supreme Court case identifying six attributes or variables to consider when assigning salvage award rights under US maritime salvage law
  • Laws of Finds: de facto and de jure laws of the sea and precedents differentiating found and salvage maritime engagements

Moreover, maritime law is highly subject to the codified and uncodified rules of the high seas, per numerous international treaties and norms. In this sense, preparing and filing any action under maritime law should involve an attorney with ample knowledge of both historical and contemporary maritime international law agreements as well.

If you have any questions or concerns in regards to an injury that happened on navigable waters, speaking with an attorney who specifically handles maritime or admiralty laws may be best option for accurately understanding your rights under maritime law.