Frequently Asked Questions About Maritime Law
The terms “admiralty law” and “maritime law” mean the same thing: Both refer to the law that governs marine affairs. Maritime law is particularly important for those who earn their living aboard ships, oil rigs, dredgers and other vessels. It also provides rights for workers in harbors, shipyards, wharfs and shipping terminals.
Generally speaking, maritime workers may find protection under following laws:
- The Jones Act, which grants traditional seamen (employed shipboard) the right to sue their employers for negligence
- The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, which gives shore-based maritime workers (and those on fixed installations that don’t qualify as vessels) the right to no-fault benefits through their employers
- Maintenance and cure, a doctrine that requires employers to cover medical expenses, transportation, food, lodging and pay for employees who are unable to work due to job-related injuries
- Unseaworthiness claims, which allow injured workers to hold ship owners responsible for unsafe conditions aboard the vessel
- Death on the High Seas Act, which gives surviving family members the right to sue for wrongful death that occurred offshore
State laws — such as workers’ compensation and personal injury — may also come into play in some situations.
Simply put, a ship owner — or, in the case of oil and gas operations, the owner of the drilling rig, dredger or other vessel — owes to every member of the crew an absolute duty to keep it in a reasonably safe condition. This means (among other things):
- Hiring an adequate crew with the skills and training necessary to perform their jobs
- Supplying the tools and equipment necessary for the work
- Providing safety and survival gear such as life jackets, lifeboats, beacons, signal flares and the like
- Keeping the vessel in reasonable repair
- Ensuring that dangers — such as obstructed walkways, uncovered holes, loose railings and fall hazards — are promptly identified and fixed
General maritime law requires employers to cover certain costs for maritime workers who get injured or sick while in the service of a vessel. This obligation typically ends once the worker has reached maximum medical improvement.
- Maintenance refers to the costs of room and board, which today means food and housing payments (such as mortgage, rent, homeowners’ insurance, property taxes and utilities).
- Cure is the cost of all reasonable medical attention along with transportation to and from medical visits.
In the first half of the last century, maritime claims for personal injury usually involved workers employed in the shipping industry — longshoremen, harbor workers and crew members aboard the large sailing ships sometimes referred to as “blue water” seaman.
However, shortly after the oil industry went off shore, several important court decisions extended the protection available under maritime law to offshore oilfield workers assigned to floaters — that is, special-purpose structures capable of being floated from one location to another, like jack-up drilling rigs and dredgers. In fact, since 1959, many oilfield workers hurt on the job have been able to find protection under the general maritime law as well as the Jones Act.
Some oil and gas workers spend their time on shore or aboard fixed oil platforms. While these workers may not qualify for protection under the Jones Act, they may still qualify for benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.
It depends on your situation. Generally, you have three years to file suit (or settle your claim) under the Jones Act, the Death on the High Seas Act or general maritime law. Under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, you have one year from the date of the injury or diagnosis to submit a claim for full benefits.
It’s never a good idea to procrastinate. Evidence can get lost, memories can fade, witnesses can disappear and the accident scene can change. For these reasons, an early investigation into the facts of your case may make the difference between winning and losing.
As a maritime worker, you have important rights, but you must act quickly to protect them. Missteps can cost you large sums of money.
Follow these tips to avoid pitfalls:
- Report any accidents or injuries to your employer as soon as possible.
- Don’t let anyone stop you from following through on this critical step.
- Don’t let anyone to tell you what to write.
- Don’t allow anyone to talk you into leaving out facts you think are important.
- Report everything you know about what happened, from your perspective.
- Write down what happened for your own records.
- Usually you won’t receive a copy of the accident report, so this step can make life easier for you down the road.
- As with the official accident report, you should be as detailed as possible, covering:
- The date and time of the accident
- Where it happened
- The weather conditions at the time
- The names of everyone who witnessed the accident (or was nearby when it happened)
- All of the events leading up to what happened
- Promptly seek medical attention from a doctor of your choice. In most instances, your regular family doctor is as good a choice as any.
- Don’t believe anyone who says you’re required to see the company doctor first. This is simply not true.
- Don’t talk yourself out of a hospital or doctor visit because you believe the pain will go away with time. It may just as likely get worse. What’s more, you need a thorough and early evaluation that clearly documents the extent of your injuries.
- Don’t worry about what your coworkers or supervisor will think of you. You have the absolute right to seek medical treatment. Your health is far more important than your job, and you need to take care of yourself first.
- Don’t hide the fact that you were hurt at work from your doctor. A full explanation of what led to the injury is essential for getting a correct diagnosis.
- Do tell your doctor about any similar injuries you’ve suffered in the past, even if it was a long time ago.
- Do tell your doctor about every part of your body that was hurt in the accident — even if you think it’s only a minor injury.
- Do follow your doctor’s advice to the letter. If you have questions, follow up with your doctor so you understand exactly what you need to do to get better.
- Do keep all of your follow-up appointments, even if your condition has improved.
- Do seek immediate treatment if your injury suddenly worsens.
- As soon as possible, get help from an attorney who focuses on maritime law ( not a general practice attorney or general personal injury attorney).
- Don’t make the mistake of thinking your employer (or their insurance company) is on your side.
- Don’t give a formal statement to the insurance claims adjuster.
- Don’t speak with an investigator who works for the other side.
- Don’t file for unemployment if you’re unable to perform your regular job duties.
- Keep good records of the accident and its aftermath.
- Take photos of the accident scene if you’re able (or ask someone else to do it). In particular, get photos of any tools, machinery or equipment involved in the accident.
- Make a detailed diagram of the accident scene as soon as you’re able.
- Keep copies of all medical records and bills associated with your injury, including mileage to and from visits.
This is not an easy question to answer. It depends on numerous factors, including:
- The strength of your legal claim
- The evidence for and against your position
- The extent of your injuries
- The amount and length of your medical care
- Your economic hardship resulting from the injury
- Whether you now have a decreased earning potential
- Whether you’re permanently disabled
- Whether you’re suffering from scars or disfigurement
- Your pain and suffering
As you can see, it’s impossible to answer this question without reviewing your unique situation. We are happy to provide you with a free, no-obligation evaluation of your claim. Our evaluation can only be as accurate as the information you provide us with. Once we receive the requested information, we will make every effort to contact you the very same day.
Yes. In most cases, accident victims can recover money even if they are partly to blame for the accident.
Many maritime claims are settled before trial. However, a trial or hearing may be necessary to get the compensation you deserve. It’s important to choose an attorney with the skills and experience to take your case to trial if needed.
Yes. If you have been seriously injured or lost a family member in a maritime accident — either offshore or onshore — you should, without hesitation, promptly consult an attorney about your legal rights.
Time is not on your side. Your employer and any other company involved in the accident likely began an investigation within 24 hours after it happened. You can’t afford to wait — it’s just that simple.
When you contact us, you can expect the following:
- We offer injured workers and their families a free initial consultation to learn about their legal rights.
- Our attorney will meet with you personally and answer all of your questions.
- If you think he’s the right lawyer for your case after you meet him, attorney Larry Curtis will promptly investigate your case and make sure that none of the evidence important to prove your case is lost or destroyed.
- He will fight for every penny you deserve.
You should hire:
- An experienced lawyer who has a reputation for honesty and fair dealings
- A lawyer who will prepare your case, as you would
- A lawyer who will stand up and fight for you and your family
- A lawyer who has a proven track record of winning cases similar to yours
Attorney Larry Curtis fits the bill in all of these ways.
It won’t cost you anything out of pocket. We accept injury cases on a percentage basis — 1/3rd of what we recover — because we understand that these tragic situations can destroy families physically, emotionally and financially. Medical bills quickly reach staggering levels. In fatal cases, there are funeral and burial expenses alongside the prospect of a future without a breadwinner. Lost wages can further intensify the financial hardship.
A contingency fee arrangement — no recovery, no fee — allows you and your family to receive the legal help you need at a time you need it most. You only pay us a fee if we make a recovery on your behalf. Otherwise, you owe us nothing.