What is a Maritime Law?
Maritime law, sometimes called admiralty law, refers to the United States laws and regulations governing activities in any navigable waters or the open sea.(Navigable Waters: are waters that provide a channel for commerce and transportation of people and goods.) Maritime laws are federal laws to which the federal court system has jurisdiction over. These laws provide maritime workers and the U.S. merchant marine industry with protection by allowing workers to seek compensation for any injuries suffered offshore or in the maritime industry. This can include accidents that occur on large commercial or fishing vessels, crab boats, barges, container ships, tugboats, crew boats, cargo ships, or other moveable vessels.
In 1979 The U.S. Supreme Court created four tests for determining what constitutes navigable waters. Established in Kaiser Aetna v. United States, 444 U.S. 164, 100 S. Ct. 383, 62 L. Ed. 2d 332, the tests ask whether the body of water (1) is subject to the ebb and flow of the tide, (2) connects with a continuous interstate waterway, (3) has navigable capacity, and (4) is actually navigable. Using these tests, courts have held that bodies of water much smaller than lakes and rivers also constitute navigable waters. Even shallow streams that are traversable only by canoe have met the test.
Crew members of seagoing vessels perform very dangerous jobs and risk serious injury while at sea; injuries that can take away their livelihood and permanently diminish their quality of life. If you have suffered a serious injury while at sea, it is your right to seek compensation, protect your health, your family, and your livelihood. If you have been involved in a maritime accident, contacting an attorney is essential to ensuring that you receive full compensation for your losses. At the law office of Dann D. Sheffield & Associates our maritime attorneys understand the difficulties and legal issues you face after being involved in a offshore accident and can help you along the road to recovery.
Victims of Maritime Accidents Frequently Require Legal Assistance with:
- Maintenance and Cure Benefits
- Unpaid Medical Expenses
- Lost Wages or Earning Capacity
- Pain and Suffering
- Disputing Liability
- Vocational Rehabilitation
- Phone Call Not Being Returned by Insurance Companies
- Medical Referrals for Accident Treatment
- Other Expenses
Because the job of a seaman is dangerous and work conditions are extremely hazardous certain laws have been put in place to protect seamen. Generally when a worker is injured at a non-maritime job, that worker can not hold his/her employer liable for his injuries and is limited to making a Labor and Industries claim. Maritime laws, however, provide more protection by allowing injured seamen to hold their employers liable through the Jones Act as well as requiring employers to provide maintenance and cure benefits. The benefits provided by the Jones Act can be significantly larger than those provided to workers on land. Hiring an attorney can ensure that you receive the full benefits the Jones Act allows for.
The Jones Act:
The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, generally referred to as the Jones Act (as it was sponsored by Senator Wesley Jones) is a federal statute that governs the workers compensation rights of sailors. The act entitles seamen, or their surviving spouse or dependents, to file a lawsuit against their employer when their fellow crew members, the vessel’s owners, operators, officers, or fellow employee’s negligence caused their injuries or death. A claim can also be made under the Jones Act if the seamen can prove that his/her injuries were the result of the ship being unsafe or unseaworthy. If there is a defect in the ship, or if the ship is inadequately maintained, or if the crew was not reasonably trained for their expected duty and that lack of training caused or contributed to the seaman’s injuries the ship owner may be held legally responsible. The expertise and experience of the crew is included within the definition of seaworthiness of the vessel. The ship owner is legally responsible for providing a safe ship and a properly trained crew.
The Jones Act applies only to seamen, however, the Act itself does not define who qualifies as a seaman and it is often difficult for a maritime worker to make a determination about their seaman status on their own. It was, however, decided in the 1995 U.S. Supreme Court case: Chandris, Inc., v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347, 115 S.Ct. 2172 (1995) that any worker who spends at least 30% of his/her time in active service on a merchant marine vessel on navigable waters can qualify for Jones Act benefits.
Maintenance and Cure Benefits
It is the lawful obligation of a maritime employer to provide any maritime worker who suffers a serious injury or illness offshore with paid medical treatment and time to recover until they are fit for work again. Maintenance benefits include room and board, and food and utilities. While cure benefits include doctors and hospital bills, medicine and necessary medical tests.
As an offshore maritime worker, you are entitled to maintenance and cure benefits regardless of whose fault the accident was. The concepts of maintenance and cure are a well-established part of general maritime law and even if you caused an accident, you are still entitled to paid maintenance and cure benefits. The law is on the side of injured maritime workers and maintenance and cure benefits should be full and inclusive. Frequently, this is a concept maritime employers have trouble grasping.
Accidents on Maritime Vessels can Involve:
- Poor Work conditions
- Vessel Safety Violations
- Exposure to Hazardous Conditions or Materials
- Shifting Cargo or Equipment
- Hazardous Use of Lines
- Failure to Maintain Ship’s Processing Equipment
At Dann D. Sheffield & Associates we know that serious injuries and fatalities to seamen can be prevented. Someone is responsible for your injuries and loss. Federal law establishes your right to be compensated if you have been injured in a maritime accident as a result of another person’s negligence. Our attorneys will fight for your rights, and for the compensation you need to put your life back together. If you or a loved one have been seriously injured, or a loved one has been killed in a maritime or fishing boat accident, you need a skillful and responsive legal team that is fully committed to fighting for your rights; and the attorneys at Dann D. Sheffield & Associates can help you each step of the way.