What is Maritime Law?

Maritime lawyers are legal professionals with specific knowledge and expertise in the focus of maritime or admiralty law. This is a separate and distinct body of law that governs offenses and activities that occur on navigable waters, including streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans. It also covers specific activities that take place on land but are maritime in nature, such as loading or unloading ships.

Maritime Law is Complex

Maritime law is a particularly complicated legal focus. U.S. federal courts have original jurisdiction over maritime cases, but they do not have exclusive jurisdiction. In some instances, certain circumstances may be brought in either federal or state courts. These include those related to claims such as:

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  • Personal injury
  • Maritime products liability
  • Cargo damage
  • Boating accidents 

The appropriate filing of a maritime case depends on many factors, including the nature of the legal matter and whether or not it involves a negligent shipowner or the wrongful conduct of another party.

Maritime Law has a Unique Standard of Statute of Limitations

Maritime law also possesses a unique set of statutes of limitations. For the majority of maritime claims, the injured parties or their families are required to file formal lawsuits in the appropriate courts within a standard three-year period. If they fail to do so, their claims may be barred. 

Similarly, some wrongful death claims must be filed within 18 months. An example of this is a claim against a U.S. Government ship or a private ship operating under contracts with the U.S. Government. Legal filings involving cruise ships usually necessitate written notice of claims within six months and a suit filing within one year in the court named explicitly on the passenger ticket. This includes legal matters such as cruise ship injuries. Because maritime cases are so complex and nuanced, you are well-advised to consult with a qualified and experienced maritime lawyer who has the necessary knowledge to protect your rights and best interests.  

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Many maritime law matters involve personal injury or wrongful death to passengers, seamen, or longshoremen. Since the state workers’ compensation laws pertaining to land-based employment do not apply to work aboard vessels, federal law governs these claims.  

Similar to state workers’ compensation claims, it doesn’t matter who is at fault for an accident aboard ship for most personal injury cases. “Maintenance and cure” rights automatically become effective in these matters. Such rights make sure that seamen get the needed medical care and compensation to achieve maximum medical recovery.

How is a Maritime Injury Claim Filed?

Maritime claims are usually handled by: 

  • Direct negotiations with an insurance adjuster or employer
  • Administrative proceedings before a state or federal agency
  • Filing a suit in the state or federal court with related litigation or negotiations

However, the length of the claim process and the specific procedures involved can vary significantly depending on the nature of each claim. Furthermore, the length of time required to settle an individual claim can depend on the amount of time and effort needed to investigate the incident and evaluate the particulars of the case thoroughly.