What is a Maritime Lawyer?

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What Is A Maritime Lawyer?

A maritime lawyer is an attorney who specializes in laws that pertain to navigable waters. As with any attorney, a maritime lawyer must earn a law degree as well as pass the bar exam. However, these specialized attorneys focus on issues related to maritime law.

What Is Maritime Law?

Also known as admiralty law, maritime law is a body of laws, conventions, and treaties governing:

  • Private maritime business
  • Other nautical matters, including shipping and offenses that occur on open water

There are international rules that govern the use of seas and oceans. These rules are called the Law of the Sea. This collection of agreements and laws under maritime law regulates activities and behavior on the seas, including how people interact and how people do business in worldwide waters. Maritime law primarily deals with international waters.

Incidents in Navigable Waters and Other Regulations

Maritime law applies to incidents that take place in navigable waters. These laws apply to anyone traveling on the high seas, including on cruise ships. Maritime law regulates a variety of possible events and activities. This includes:

  • Commerce
  • Interaction between seamen and employers
  • Leisure travel
  • Lost cargo
  • Navigation

Navigable waters may include any body of water in which seamen work in addition to vessels that are docked on waters but not actually navigating. Vessels that are not moving, however, must be capable of navigating in the water. Someone working on a vessel that is docked but able go out to sea would be covered under general maritime law, but someone working on a new vessel that is not ready to move on water would not be.

Maritime law also regulates:

  • Carriage of passengers and goods
  • Maritime insurance
  • Procedures for ships and shipping contracts, including inspection, licensing, and registration

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History and Codification of Maritime Law

A collection of international agreements and domestic laws comprise maritime law. Domestic laws often codify international agreements, creating the power to enforce these agreements domestically. Maritime law in the United States is predominantly federal law.

A large part of modern maritime law derives from British common law principles. The concept of maritime law has existed from the 17th and 18th centuries, when sea travel was the norm. The practice of modern maritime law, however, is far more encompassing. Today's maritime law deals with regulations and laws passed by various nation states. Many aspects of maritime law are internationally recognized thanks to multilateral treaties.

The Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization , or IMO, was established in 1948 and came into force in 1958. This organization ensures that existing international maritime conventions stay up to date. The IMO also develops new agreements when necessary. This organization names three core conventions:

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

Principles of Maritime Law

Certain rules and principles apply to the high seas. These include:

  • Contracts, agreements, and disputes: Contractual agreements between companies doing business on international waters, such as wage disputes that involve maritime employees or defaults on loans for maritime activities, must have a forum to resolve disputes. Contract disputes in the United States go to federal courts.
  • Duties to clients: A ship owner must care for clients. For example, if a ship is transferring cargo for a client, the owner of the ship is responsible for keeping the cargo safe from loading to discharge.
  • Duties to passengers: A ship carrying passengers has a duty to provide reasonable care to its passengers. Ship owners are therefore liable for negligence claims that come up during a journey at sea.
  • Lifesaving on the high seas: While there is no right to reward for saving a person's life, seamen are expected and obligated to do their best to save people in peril.
  • Maintenance and cure: A seaman in service to an employer has the right to appropriate injury care.
  • Salvage and treasure: Lost cargo and lost treasure requires fair division. Generally, the party owning the property has rights to the property, but the party recovering it has a right to reward. Salvage cargo can include money or historical artifacts.

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What Does A Maritime Lawyer Do?

A maritime lawyer can represent people in court or in settlement negotiations. A maritime lawyer can represent you if your boat causes damages or if you are the victim of a situation covered by maritime law.

When Do You Need A Maritime Lawyer?

A lawyer can help you figure out if maritime law applies to your case. Depending on where your legal issue occurs and how it affects commercial activities on the water, you may or may not be included in admiralty jurisdiction.

Some common reasons people need a maritime lawyer include:

  • Boat crashes: Someone crashes into your boat, or your boat crashes into another person's boat.
  • Dock incidents: Someone else's boat damages your dock, or your boat hits a dock.
  • Pollution: Your ship/boat spills waste or another kind of pollution into the water.
  • Injuries: You get injured or injure someone else because of a crash on open water.

A maritime lawyer is the best resource you can turn to in these cases, as this type of lawyer has the knowledge and experience about the laws of the water.

Types of Maritime Claims

Claims involving death, injury, and negligence may fall under maritime law:

Wrongful Death or Personal Injury in Maritime Law

As state workers' compensation laws for land-based employment do not apply to work done aboard a vessel, federal law governs claims for wrongful death or personal injury to:

  • Longshoremen
  • Passengers
  • Seamen

Much like state workers' compensation claims, it does not matter who is at fault for accidents aboard a ship for most maritime law cases involving personal injury. Maintenance and care rights automatically become effective.

Negligence in Maritime Law

Cases involving negligence on the part of an employee or the shipowner as well as a vessel's "unseaworthiness" fall under the Jones Act . This federal law allows for much larger awards than are possible under most state workers' compensation claims. Under the Jones Act, compensation is available for legal damages involving:

  • Disfigurement
  • Lost earning capacity
  • Lost wages
  • Medical expenses
  • Mental anguish
  • Pain and suffering

Those seeking full compensation for injuries covered by the Jones Act must meet several tests. These tests include:

  • Demonstrating the status of the worker at the time of injury
  • Determining the available legal remedies that will offer the injured worker the greatest financial recovery
  • Filing a case both with the appropriate court and within applicable statutes of limitations
  • Proving that injuries resulted from negligence by an employer or coworker

How to Choose a Maritime Lawyer

Choosing a maritime lawyer requires consideration of various factors. These factors include:

  • The source of an injury, such as a boating accident, defective products, negligent vessel maintenance, or a work-related injury
  • The type of legal claim or legal work needed
  • Whether a case is related to your business
  • Whether you are injured as a passenger or maritime worker

Maritime lawyers understand the intricacies of maritime law. If you are dealing with contracts involving boats, traveling international waters, or other situations that may fall under maritime law, it's important to work with an experienced lawyer .

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