Admiralty And Maritime Law
Federal maritime law governs legal disputes, such as navigation and shipping, including commerce, seamen, personal injury, towage, insurance, liens, and recreation. Federal maritime law, also known as admiralty law, also covers awards for salvaging vessels, piracy or ship hijacking.
Article III, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution provides that cases involving maritime law are to be heard in federal courts. A plaintiff, however, pursuant to 28 USC §1333 may choose to file a suit in state court, but federal law will still apply in that case. Courts and the Congress seek to create a uniform law that will govern both national and international maritime issues. Current federal maritime law is composed of modern legislation, case precedents, maritime doctrines, international treaties and private contracts.
Maritime law only governs legal disputes originating on navigable waters, which include all bodies of water used for interstate and foreign commerce. This means any body of water, such as a lake or a river, within a single state is not covered by maritime law.
In the area of shipping, admiralty law applies to such issues as commercial accidents resulting in damage to vessels and cargo, injuries to seamen, and spill of hazardous material. Following an accident, litigation would arise to determine who is responsible for the lost or damaged cargo. In cases of foreign trade, the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act ("COGSA") governs. COGSA provides that a ship owner's liability is limited to $500 per container provided that the ship was in proper condition prior to departure.
One of the most complex issue that arises from maritime law cases is compensation for personal injury to passengers and seamen. This issue involves expertise of maritime law specialists. In recent years, maritime law has been increasingly applied to recreational boating accidents that occur on navigable waters. In the case of passengers of cruise ships, their legal rights arising from the negligence of the cruise ship is limited by the terms of their ticket. This means that the statute of limitations for filing a suit would be only one year, instead of three, and that notice of filing of such suit may be required in as little as six months.
Recovering compensation for personal injury is even more complicated for "seamen," defined by Jones Act as a crew member whose responsibilities meets certain requirements under the same Act. The Act governs the rights of seamen to recover personal injury compensation. The determination alone of who a "seaman" often requires consultation with a lawyer. Following the determination of whether Jones Act applies, seamen are entitled to jury trial to provide them a fair process for filing negligence claims. Should the negligent act of the employer results to the death of the seaman, the surviving family members are allowed to file suit. Moreover, personal injury litigation also delves on insurance law, adding another complex layer to the litigation and needing the expertise of specialists.
If employees do not fit the definition of "seamen" under Jones Act, they may recover compensation for personal injury under other laws, such as the Doctrine of Unseaworthiness or the law of "maintenance and cure."