Maritime Accident Laws

In the past, US Admiralty law only applied as far as the tidal waters of the United States but this has been extended to all US waters used for interstate and international commercial shipping. The ship's flag is the determining factor for the source of law, but there must be a legitimate claim to the jurisdiction involved rather than simply flying the flag of a country to which the ship has no connection.

If there is a collision at sea, the Judiciary Act of 1789 allows the parties to file suit in common law. In other cases maritime matters are heard in the federal courts.

The NTSB National Transportation Safety Board is under a duty to investigate major marine accidents, and all marine accidents involving a public and nonpublic vessel.

The Jones Act

Most admiralty and maritime lawsuits are exclusively dealt with in the federal courts however because of a ‘saving to suitors' clause personal injury suits can be brought in either state or federal court. In the majority of admiralty cases in the federal court there is no right to a jury trial, except in some limited personal injury suits brought by seamen.

The Jones Act was created to encourage citizens to work at sea and gives mariners greater powers than those who work on the land. This legislation makes the employer responsible for an employee's injury that has been caused as a result of the employer's negligence, a co-worker's negligence or that of an agent of the employer.

Under the Longshore and Harbor Worker's Compensation Act injured mariners are entitled to two thirds of their average earnings (calculated on an annual basis) until such time as they recover. If the injury is permanent the US Dept. of Labor sets a level of payment for a specific number of weeks.

Passenger Personal Injury

If a passenger is injured while on board a ship they may sue the ship-owner for damages on the basis that the ship-owner was negligent. Care must be taken in relation to injuries sustained on cruise liners as there are normally limitations on the terms of the passenger ticket. This is despite the fact that the limitation period for personal injury is generally three years.

Salvaging Ships and Treasure

In the event that property is lost at sea, whether as a result of an accident or not, the person who has recovered (salvaged) the property is entitled to a reward for salvage. Generally, the award to which the rescuer is entitled depends on the value of the property saved. There will be no award if the rescue is unsuccessful or if damage is done to the vessel or other property in the course of the salvage attempt. There is also no reward for rescuing people, as all mariners have a duty to try to save the lives of those in peril on the sea.

Limited Liability

After a maritime accident, a ship-owner can limit their liability to the ship's value. This is an aspect of the Limitation Act that is unique to maritime law in the event that an accident is caused by something that is beyond the control of the ship-owner. This is essentially to prevent ship-owners for being liable for something that they did not have the "privity" or "knowledge" to control and can also apply to much smaller vessels. If a person caused personal injury or damage on a borrowed jet ski, the original owner may not be liable.

  • If you or a loved one has been injured in a maritime accident, contact a maritime lawyer in your area without delay.

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