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What Is Maritime Law?

Published on May 25, 2021 by Thomas Law Offices.

boat accident lawyer

If you’ve been injured on a boat while you were working and someone else is to blame, you may have grounds for a legal claim. Maritime laws can be complex and difficult to understand, so it’s important to work with an experienced boat accident lawyer to ensure you pursue the strongest claim possible.

A Brief History of Maritime Law

The history of maritime law, also called admiralty law, dates back to 900 A.D., if not earlier. It originated from Rhodian Law, which governed the seas of the Rhodes. Maritime laws have changed and adapted over the years, but the basic principles remain: to protect people on the seas.

Modern admiralty law, one of the very first areas of international law, was developed in cooperation with the laws of other countries and international laws created by the United Nations. In the U.S., federal courts have jurisdiction over maritime matters.

For a boat accident to fall under maritime law, three conditions must be satisfied: there must be a vessel involved; the incident must have happened on navigable waters; the accident must have happened while the worker was performing job-related duties.

Maritime Laws and Injury Claims

To clarify the conditions above, a vessel can be a yacht, dredge, fishing boat, supply or cargo ship, tugboat, barge, towboat, crew boat, tanker, or offshore oil rig. Navigable waters include oceans, bayous, lakes, rivers, and adjacent harbors.

If you think you have a maritime law claim, it’s possible your accident involved one of the following topics:

  • Maintenance and Cure. Working on decks and around heavy machinery while on a constantly moving vessel presents unique challenges. Even with training and experience, accidents happen. Some of those accidents are fatal. Under maritime law, injured sea persons are entitled to free medical care for the duration of the trip and beyond until they’ve reached maximum medical improvement. In addition to that, the company or ship has to provide the injured person with funds to survive while recovering. If those requirements are breached, the victim can sue.
  • Duties to Passengers. Civilian passengers can sustain injuries on boats just like workers. If a passenger can prove their injuries resulted from the ship owner’s negligence, they can file a claim and seek compensation.
  • Liens and Mortgages. Maritime disputes are sent to federal court. Loan defaults and ongoing mortgage disputes are common. Maritime employees who seek unpaid wages or compensation for underpaid wages also make their case in federal court.
  • Salvage and Treasure. Salvage happens on the high seas more than people realize. There are laws in place to protect property owners and those who risk retrieving property that has been lost at sea. Contract salvage is when a property owner and a salvage professional enter into an agreement that spells out the percentage of the property’s value the professional will receive. Merit salvage is when no agreement exists. If they cannot come to an agreement post-salvage, the court will decide the award.

International Maritime Law

The majority of international maritime claims revolve around vessels and their cargo, vessel registration and licensing, inspection of ships, rules regarding the carriage of passengers and goods, civil matters, and piracy. The three primary agreements include:

  • The International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping for Seafarers
  • The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea
  • The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution From Ships

New agreements are added as needed, especially with the rapid progress of technology and changing shipping techniques.

Hiring an Admiralty Law Attorney

Maritime law is a specialized and exclusive area of law. Attorneys must understand federal and state laws and have sound judgment to help clients make advantageous legal decisions. If you choose to file a claim, you may directly negotiate with an employer or an insurance adjuster, administer legal proceedings before a state or federal agency, or file suit in a state or federal court with related negotiations or litigation.

Injured employees have the right to pursue a claim to seek compensation for their losses. They may be eligible for both economic and non-economic damages to cover medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more. While some maritime injury claims result in settlement via negotiations, others proceed to trial.

Contact Thomas Law Offices

If you work on a boat and are injured, you may be able to pursue a claim against the party that caused your accident. Thomas Law Offices is well-versed in maritime laws and boat accidents, so we’re here to help. Contact us today for more information.

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Tad Thomas - Trial Lawyer

Tad Thomas

Managing Partner

Tad Thomas has dedicated his practice to representing plaintiffs in various types of civil litigation, including personal injury, business litigation, class actions, and multi-district litigation.

After graduating with his law degree in 2000 from Salmon P. Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University, Mr. Thomas immediately opened his own private practice and began representing injury victims.

In 2011, Thomas Law Offices was established in Louisville, Kentucky. Over the past decade, Mr. Thomas has expanded his firm and now has offices in three additional locations: Cincinnati, Ohio, Columbia, Missouri, and Chicago, Illinois. He is also a frequent lecturer on topics like trial skills and ethics and technology.

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