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The Maritime Law Association of the United States (MLA) was founded in 1899 and was inspired by the formation of the International Maritime Committee, also known as Comité Maritime International (CMI), three years before.

Admiralty and maritime laws govern navigation and shipping that occurs in U.S. tidal waters and any waters within the United States used for navigation (considered “navigable waters”). Navigable waters generally include all oceans, any large lakes or rivers that can be used for commercial shipping and are divided into territorial waters, and the high seas. Territorial waters are close to land; high seas are waters further away from land.

Maritime law, admiralty law, marine law, the law of marine insurance and the law of the sea, barges, ships, shipping, commercial vessels, fisheries, offshore oil and gas rigs, semi-submersible drilling rigs, jack-up drilling rigs, commerce, seamen, passengers and cargoes, salvage, towing and towage, wharves, piers, docks, insurance, maritime liens, canals, pleasure and recreation water craft, and even piracy (ship hijacking) all fall under the admiralty/maritime law category.

Most admiralty and maritime cases can be brought into either the federal or state courts. However, the federal maritime law applies even when claims are brought in state court. The United States Supreme Court pre-empts and takes precedence over all state laws. This changes not only the substantive laws, but also changes things such as the period of time in which lawsuits can be brought.

Since the failure to file a lawsuit within the statute of limitations effectively bars the entire claim, you should be aware of what the limitations are and if the admiralty and maritime limitations of the federal maritime law or those of the state law will apply.

Two types of cases are typically covered under the admiralty/maritime law:

The first includes admiralty and maritime matters involving an injury to one or more persons or damage to property related to a vessel in navigation on the navigable waters of the United States during the course of traditional maritime activity. This damage or injury must have the potential for affecting maritime commerce, which can also include injuries and property damage sustained on or by means of pleasure craft, also including those sustained on or caused by means of commercial vessels.

The second includes maritime contracts. Maritime contracts relate to the navigation, business or commerce of the sea, including contracts to repair vessels. But contracts for the construction of new vessels are not considered maritime contracts, nor are contracts for the sale and purchase of vessels. However, marine insurance policies are considered maritime contracts.

Jones Act

The United States Congress passed the maritime law known as the Jones Act to protect injured seaman who may or may not be otherwise covered by maritime law. Oftentimes the term “maritime law” is used by offshore workers or merchant seamen when referring to the Jones Act.

Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act

The Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act provides medical benefits, compensation for lost wages and rehabilitation services to employees who are injured while employed or contract a disease related to employment. Survivor benefits also are available should the work-related injury result in the employee's death.

By Margie Monin           

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