Wilmington Maritime & Admiralty Attorneys

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Rountree Losee’s attorneys are widely recognized as possessing substantial experience in the field of Admiralty and Maritime Law. Our attorneys regularly represent vessel owners, vessel passengers, barge lines, fleeters, shippers, and parties involved in cargo transportation. Our attorneys have extensive experience dealing with collision claims, allision claims, personal injury claims, shipping contracts, and fleeting claims. Our personal injury experience includes defense and prosecution of claims brought under the General Maritime Law of the United States, the Jones Act, and the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. When your claim occurs in the Admiralty and Maritime Law context, trust our Admiralty & Maritime Law attorneys to put their experience to work for you.

About  Maritime Law

Admiralty and Maritime is a complex area of law that demands a wealth of knowledge and experience from the start. The statute of limitations for these cases depends on the nature of the claim, and because these cases can be heard in state or federal court, it is important to determine early whether your case falls under admiralty jurisdiction so that your claim is filed in the appropriate venue where maritime law can be properly applied.

If you have a case that may fall within admiralty jurisdiction, you need an experienced admiralty and maritime attorney. A professional who focuses on this area of law is better positioned to represent your interests.

What is maritime law?

The general term “maritime law” covers legal issues that arise in navigable waters. Also known as admiralty law, maritime law is made up of both domestic and international laws that govern legal transactions or disputes that occur on or bear a substantial relationship to the water. Maritime law governs issues ranging from commerce to transportation, personal injuries, and more.

Because each country has enacted its own sets of rules about maritime matters, maritime law includes laws from the United States and abroad, as well as conventions and treaties. The United Nations has empowered the militaries of participating countries to monitor, preserve, and enforce maritime law and order in international waters through the International Maritime Organization, or IMO.

Who has jurisdiction over maritime law cases?

Most maritime cases are heard in federal court. Article III of the U.S. Constitution provides for the judiciary to have admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, and the Judiciary Act of 1789 granted district courts original jurisdiction over civil admiralty and maritime cases. However, because admiralty and maritime matters were not defined in either the Constitution or Judiciary Act, federal courts bore the responsibility for establishing which cases fell under admiralty jurisdiction.

Generally, admiralty jurisdiction exists for all cases involving acts committed on the high seas or other navigable waters in cases related to contracts or other transactions pertaining to commerce on the seas or navigable waters. Tort cases involve what is called a “maritime nexus” to determine if the case falls under admiralty jurisdiction. For admiralty jurisdiction to apply, the act at issue must have taken place on navigable waters, and the resulting injury must have a significant relationship with traditional maritime activity with the potential to disrupt maritime commerce.

While federal courts hold original jurisdiction over maritime matters in the United States, state courts share concurrent jurisdiction with the federal courts over most maritime and admiralty cases. This means that, generally speaking, parties may file suit in either federal or state court for disputes arising on the high seas. However, there are a few unique cases in which the law requires federal jurisdiction.  

Even if parties choose to file suit in state court, judges tend to apply federal maritime laws, particularly when the state law would contradict a settled admiralty rule. For instance, federal maritime law allows seamen to sue more than one party for injuries whereas most state laws do not permit joint and several liability. To ensure you file in the appropriate court, it is important to work with an experienced maritime lawyer who understands the complexities of maritime law.

What is the Jones Act?

The Jones Act is a federal law that governs maritime issues related to offshore commerce. This includes the rights of crew members aboard the ship, maintenance requirements, and shipping operations. When non-professional actions by a co-worker, unseaworthy vessels, or other unsafe work conditions result in injury or death, the Jones Act allows the injured party or the injured party’s family to file a personal injury claim.

Employers are usually liable for damages when seamen are injured; however, under the Jones Act, seamen carry the burden of proving that the employer played a role in causing the accident that resulted in injury. There is a three-year statute of limitations for claims brought under the Jones Act, which means a lawsuit must be filed within three years of the date of the injury or harm. 

Seamen may be eligible to recover damages for lost wages, medical expenses, pain and suffering, and lost earning capacity. However, only those seamen or crew members who were injured during offshore work may file a claim under the Jones Act.

What type of cases are governed by maritime law?

Accidents or legal transactions that occur on the water are governed by maritime law. Lawsuits arising from injuries to crew members or passengers, damaged property claims after an accident, and even product liability claims are governed by maritime law. Accidents involving boats, ferries, and cruise ships as well as recreational water accidents related to parasailing or jet skis and any related lawsuits are governed by maritime law.

Maritime law also controls contract cases related to the water. These cases may include, for example, lawsuits brought by seamen to recover wages, actions related to towage or pilotage charges, insurance claims, and other contractual disputes and transactions.       

What is the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act?

Unlike the Jones Act, the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) protects onshore workers. Under this federal law, maritime employers are required to compensate workers who are injured during employment on or around navigable waters. Any worker employed in a maritime occupation is eligible for worker’s compensation under the Act unless the injured worker is eligible for state benefits and compensation.

Under LHWCA, workers may receive sixty-six and two-thirds percent of their weekly wages for the duration of recovery following a work-related injury. The Act also provides for compensation for lost earning capacity due to permanent disabilities and loss of limbs and organs. Further, widows may receive approximately half of their deceased spouse’s pay.

There is a one-year statute of limitations for claims filed under LHWCA, which tolls twelve months from the date on which the employers stops providing compensation and benefits or denies the injured party’s request for such payments. To ensure your claim is filed timely, you should consult a maritime attorney promptly.

What is Admiralty Court?

Admiralty Court is a tribunal that has jurisdiction over admiralty and maritime cases. While once a separate entity within the court system, today courts with jurisdiction over a case may be designated as an admiralty court to hear a specific admiralty case. In the United States, because federal courts and state courts share concurrent jurisdiction for maritime law, either is considered an admiralty court for the duration of any maritime case.

For more information about maritime cases or to discuss your case with an experienced maritime attorney, contact our firm.