Offshore InjuryBlog

Maritime Lawyer Explains Admiralty Law

In most English-speaking countries, "admiralty" and "maritime" are fairly interchangeable.

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of admiralty is as follows:

"the court having jurisdiction over questions of maritime law;
also: the system of law administered by admiralty courts"

On the other hand, the definition for maritime is the following:

"of or relating to sailing on the sea or doing business (such as trading) by sea"

What is admiralty law?

In essence, maritime law is the legal rules that govern all aspects of business involving the ocean, including:

  • Commerce
  • Navigation
  • Salvaging
  • Shipping
  • Transportation

It is important to realize that maritime law is not the "Law of the Sea," which is an international agreement between nations regarding the use of the oceans including establishment of guidelines for business, natural resource usage, and environment. The Law of the Sea is public international law; maritime law is not.

Features of Admiralty Law

Common features of admiralty law, which will be explained below, include:

Maintenance & Cure

For offshore workers who are injured or made ill, there is no more important aspect of maritime law than the concept of maintenance and cure. This doctrine has roots as old as 1150 A.D. when the Rolls of Oléron became widely known. The Rolls of Oléron was northwestern Europe's first formal version of maritime law, with Article IV providing the foundation for the modern interpretation of maintenance and cure.

Today, maintenance and cure defines the shipowner's responsibility to provide "maintenance" and "cure" to an injured seaman until they reach a point known as "maximum medical improvement." Maintenance is the basic living expenses during the recovery period; cure is the medical attention needed by the seaman.

According to the U.S. Supreme Court, maintenance and cure benefits are designed to be full and inclusive; however, not all maritime employers deliver to that level. For example, maintenance benefits are meant to cover everything from rent or mortgage to electricity to food and transportation. Still, employers may shortchange an employee with outdated rates (some as low as $15 per day) that do not cover necessities.

Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI)
One question often asked regarding maintenance and cure benefits is how long they last. For injured seaman, the answer is that they last until they reach MMI. For an injured seaman to reach MMI does not mean they are at the same health as they were prior to the injury—it simply means that they have reached the point where no further improvement is expected. Essentially, the seaman is "as good as they are going to get."

Passenger Injuries

Admiralty law also extends legal protection to passengers aboard traveling vessels. Under this body of law, shipowners have a duty of reasonable care to individuals traveling on their ship. Should a passenger suffer an injury during the course of their travel, they may have grounds to pursue a lawsuit if their injury was tied to the negligence of another. As with all personal injury cases, the passenger will bear the responsibility of proving the negligence of the third party. For most passenger injury cases, the statute of limitations is three years; however, if the injured occurred while aboard a cruise ship, it may be limited to only one year.

Maritime Liens & Mortgages

In the maritime industry, there are individuals who may have a lien against a ship. For example, a bank that provides a shipowner money to purchase the vessel may use a maritime lien to ensure that they get paid. Similar to how other liens work, these individuals or entities may seize or arrest the vessel if payment is never received. For this action to be enforced, the action must be taken to a federal admiralty court.

Salvage & Treasure Salvage

Following a shipwreck, the act of recovering the ship and its cargo is known as "marine salvage." This can include towing, refloating, patching, or repairing the ship. In many of today's cases, the process of salvage focuses primarily on ensuring that leaking oil is addressed first so that the environment is not affected.

Currently, there are two different types of salvage: contract and pure. In contract salvage, the owner of the ship / property enter into a business agreement to commence salvage operations. In pure salvage, there is no existing contract, although that relationship is still implied. To claim a salvage award, the rescuer will need to bring his claim to court, with the award being given on the merit of the service and value of the property.

Compensating Injured Seamen in the United States

For American seamen injured while working offshore, there are three ways sources of compensation:

The doctrine of maintenance and cure is explained above. The doctrine of unseaworthiness is the legal requirement of a shipowner to provide a safe vessel to all workers who are aboard it. If the employee suffers an injury caused by the ship's "unseaworthiness," they may be entitled to recover financial compensation.

The Jones Act, known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, is a federal statute that provides legal protection to maritime workers who are injured during the course of their work by the negligence of the shipowner, the captain, or even their fellow crewmembers. It operates similarly to the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA).

The Jones Act says the following under 46 U.S.C. § 30104:

"A seaman injured in the course of employment or, if the seaman dies from the injury, the personal representative of the seaman may elect to bring a civil action at law, with the right of trial by jury, against the employer. Laws of the United States regulating recovery for personal injury to, or death of, a railway employee apply to an action under this section."

Talk to Our Maritime Injury Lawyers for Free

In the instance of a serious maritime accident, we at Arnold & Itkin LLP encourage you to contact our law firm as soon as possible. We are well-versed in all aspects of maritime law, and we can help you work toward a fair recovery. Regardless of whether you are seeking maintenance and cure benefits or want to discuss the possibility of a civil action with our knowledgeable Jones Act attorneys, you can find the honest, effective, and skilled help that you deserve. We have recovered more than $1 billion in 5 years in verdicts and settlements; you can trust in our proven experience both in the courtroom and out of it. Call us today for your free case evaluation.

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