Admiralty and Maritime Claims

Admiralty law or maritime law is a body of law that governs maritime questions and offenses regarding maritime activities. Admiralty jurisdiction is extended to all cases of damage or injury caused by a vessel on navigable water. Admiralty jurisdiction depends on both the existence of a vessel and navigable waters. A vessel is every description of watercraft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water. Navigable waters must be used, or capable of being used, in their ordinary condition as highways for commerce. Commerce requires the waters must be capable of being used for transportation of goods or passengers or some significant commercial activity. For example, pleasure fishing and recreational boating may not be sufficient for an admiralty law claim.

Admiralty jurisdiction also extends over maritime contracts, and such claims fall solely in to the federal court system. A maritime contract is a contract which is directly or substantially related to navigation. Courts usually draw a line between contracts to provide goods & services directly to the vessel pertaining to navigation and management of the vessel, from those which directly affect a vessel or its voyage. A contract is a mixed contract where it contains both maritime and non-maritime elements. The general rule is a mixed contract is not within admiralty jurisdiction unless it is wholly maritime. Courts will use their discretion to determine if the primary purpose of the contract is maritime.

Admiralty jurisdiction also covers maritime tort claims. The general test for such claims is: 1)the tort occurred on navigable waters, and 2) the relevant activity had a maritime connection or flavor. A major question to ask is does the type of incident involved have the potential to disrupt maritime commerce. Even a land based tort may have a sufficient maritime nexus or flavor. However, locality alone is not enough. A plane crash in the high seas in not a maritime tort. Admiralty jurisdiction is extended to all cases of damage or injury caused by a vessel on navigable waters.

A large majority of admiralty law questions deal with Seamen's remedies. A seaman is a member of the crew of a vessel, or a worker on a vessel who is exposed to the perils of the seas as an incident of employment. Any individual engaged or employed in any capacity on board a vessel would qualify as a seaman. This would not include a scientific personnel, a sailing school instructor or student. An employee has seaman status when he has an employment related connection to a vessel in navigation. A claimant cannot be a seaman if he is permanently assigned to a vessel that is neither operating on navigable waters nor preparing for navigation on such waters. A seaman is entitled to various rights through the Jones Act under Admiralty Law.

A seaman who suffers an injury or illness while in the service of his ship must be provided "Maintenance and Cure" under a no fault system. This includes payment of medical expenses, wages until the end of the voyage, and a sum for living expenses during the period of treatment. The seaman's employer is liable for maintenance and cure, not the vessel owner. The obligation of maintenance and cure arises if the injury occurs, or the illness becomes manifest, while the seaman is in the service of his ship. if the employer fault to provide prompt, adequate medical treatment and this causes the seaman's condition to worsen, the employer may be liable for compensatory damages, including pain and suffering. A seaman does not have to join his Maintenance and Cure claim with his Jones Act claim. No maintenance and cure will be provided if the injury or illness occurred through the seaman's own willful misconduct. A classic example of this is intoxication.

A vessel and its operators owe members of the crew an absolute duty to furnish a seaworthy vessel. A seaworthy vessel is one reasonably fit for its intended use. This requirement does not include shipowner's fault but extends to conditions that arise during the voyage. The vessel operator does not have to be the employer of the seaman, as the operator owes duty to crew members employed directly by others. The seaworthiness obligation also promises a competent crew. The importance of seaworthiness claims has diminished, as the Jones Act allows recovery against the employer for injuries caused or continued by the negligence of a crew member. This brings up arguably the biggest action under admiralty law, the Jones Act.

Under the Jones Act, an injured seaman, or his survivors, may bring an action against his employer. If a seaman is killed by employer negligence, within or beyond three miles from shore, his beneficiaries may recover under the Jones Act. The Act only applies to a claim by a seaman against his employer, but also provides a claim of action against the employer for the negligence of a co-employee. A Jones Act employer need not own or operate the vessel where the employee served as a member of the crew. An employee must show the employer maintained some control over him in order to bring a claim against this employer. The injury at the basis of the claim must have occurred during the course of the seaman's employment. A seaman assigned temporarily ashore may be acting in the course and scope of employment to satisfy a Jones Act claim, even though these facts would not satisfy a maintenance and cure claim. To file a successful Jones Act claim, the seaman must prove some negligence chargeable to the employer. Negligence is the failure to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances. Failing to furnish a safe place to work can qualify as negligence. A violation of a safety statute is negligent if the violation contributes to the injury, even though the statute was not designed to prevent the harm to the injured seaman. A Jones Act employer also owes a duty to rescue without regard to negligence. An employer is liable for injuries caused in whole or in part by its negligence. There is a three-year statute of limitations for a seaman to file a Jones Act claim. A Jones Act claim may be brought as an admiralty claim in federal or state court. If filed in state court, it is not removable.

The Longshore and Harbor Worker's Compensation Act (LHWCA) is another federal act that grants coverage to injured maritime workers. The Act covers employers whose employees are engaged in maritime employment. An LHWCA employee is covered if he is injured while performing his job over navigable waters. The worker must spend more than an insubstantial amount of time working on the water. This includes loading, unloading, and building and repairing vessels. Some occupations are specifically excluded by statute if they are covered by a state's Worker's Comp law. This can include clerical, secretarial, security, or data processing workers. A contractor is liable for the payment of LHWCA benefits to an employee of a subcontractor who has failed to secure payment of benefits. The LHWCA covers any injury or illness that arises out of and occurs in the course and scope of employment. The injury must have been caused by the employment and must have arisen during the employment.

Finally, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act provides remedies for platform injuries. Maritime law traditionally treats movable structures as vessels and thus within federal admiralty jurisdiction. However, stationary platforms are treated as land. In Louisiana, any claim occurring more than 3 miles from shore will qualify as a federal claim, while a claim occurring within 3 miles from shore will qualify as a Louisiana state claim. If no federal law applies to the claim, the proper state law will act as surrogate federal law. If the platform is within state territorial waters, state tort law will apply. Where state law such as Louisiana governs the claims, litigants take state law entirely for their claim. This includes the statute of limitation that the State applies, not the federal maritime statute. A State's workers' compensation laws can apply to injuries occurring on platforms outside the Outer Continental Shelf, or within territorial or inland waters.

Contact Us For A Free Consultation
Contact form