What Is the Importance of Maritime Law?


The open sea and inland waterways used for commerce are considered “navigable waters” of the United States. Navigable waters are governed by a collection of laws and codes collectively known as maritime law.

Maritime law (also known as admiralty law) provides important protections for those who work on navigable waters, as well as passengers aboard vessels. However, maritime law is very complicated. As such, it is extremely important to seek knowledgeable legal counsel if you were injured or a loved one was killed on the open sea or inland waters governed by federal law.

Patrick Daniel Law has extensive experience in the complexities of maritime injury claims. Know your rights under maritime law by contacting us today for a free case review.

What Is the Importance of Maritime Law to Maritime Workers?

The majority of workers on land can turn to state-administered workers’ compensation programs if they suffer an injury at work or develop a work-related illness. If you work on navigable waters, however, the rules are different.

Maritime law is the only recourse maritime workers have if they are hurt on the job. Both the process of recovering compensation and the compensation available for a work-related injury under maritime law are different from filing a claim for workers’ comp.

The Importance of the Jones Act

One of the most important components of maritime law in the United States is the Jones Act (or the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, to use the complete official name). The Jones Act established the right of maritime workers to “maintenance and cure” for job-related injuries and illnesses:

  • Maintenance refers to payments to help workers cover their day-to-day expenses.
  • Cure refers to payment of medical expenses related to a maritime work injury.

Sailors, offshore workers, and other workers covered by the Jones Act (known as seamen) are entitled to maintenance and cure. Employers are required to pay benefits for maintenance and cure until the worker reaches maximum medical improvement.

Maintenance and cure are provided on a no-fault basis. This means that maritime employers are required by law to make these payments regardless of who may be responsible for the worker’s injury.

Unlike state workers’ compensation laws (which typically bar injured workers from suing employers), the Jones Act also allows seamen to sue their employers if negligence was a factor in the injury or accident. Specifically, employers can be held liable if their negligence (however small) makes a vessel “unseaworthy.”

A vessel may be considered unseaworthy (and the shipowner liable) for any number of issues that cause harm to workers, including:

  • Slippery conditions on decks and other surfaces
  • Broken or missing handrails and deck railings
  • Failure to maintain and repair the vessel and equipment
  • Employing a “skeleton crew” (i.e., not enough crew members to operate the vessel and perform work safely)
  • Negligent training of crew
  • Failure to provide necessary safety gear
  • Negligent piloting and navigation of the vessel
  • Exposure to toxic materials

If it can be proved that an employer’s negligence led to injury or illness, seamen can bring a Jones Act claim for damages. You may be entitled to compensation for the following losses:

  • Current and future medical bills
  • Lost wages
  • Loss of earning capacity
  • Pain and suffering
  • Permanent disability
  • Scarring and disfigurement
  • Loss of quality and enjoyment of life

Families of workers killed in maritime accidents can also bring claims for wrongful death damages. Negligence/unseaworthiness must be proved for the worker’s surviving loved ones to recover compensation.

The Importance of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act

Originally passed in 1927 and amended multiple times since then, the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) created a federal workers’ compensation program for “employees in traditional maritime occupations such as longshore workers, ship-repairers, shipbuilders or ship-breakers, and harbor construction workers” performing work in or adjoining navigable waters. If you or a loved one has been injured while working on a dock, pier, wharf, shipyard, or maritime terminal, you may be entitled to compensation under the LHWCA.

Benefits available under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act include:

  • Payment of medical expenses related to the maritime injury
  • Coverage of vocational rehabilitation services
  • Disability benefits partially covering lost wages
  • Survivors’ benefits, in the event that a worker covered by the LHWCA dies on the job

LHWCA benefits are provided on a no-fault basis, meaning workers and their families do not have to prove that negligence was a factor in the injury or accident. (Generally, employees covered by the LHWCA cannot sue their employers.) If a third party was negligent, however, additional compensation may be recovered through a separate claim provided the evidence demonstrates that one or more third parties were at fault.

What Is the Importance of Maritime Law to Passengers?

Passengers of vessels on the navigable waters of the United States also have rights under maritime law if they suffer injury or illness. The location of the accident is crucial for determining whether a claim falls under state law or maritime law.

The right of passengers to recover damages for personal injury is an established part of maritime common law. Negligence on the part of a shipowner, the company operating the ship, and/or a third party must be established for a claim to be viable.

Read More: What to Do After a Maritime Accident

Different laws apply in the event of a passenger’s wrongful death aboard a seafaring vessel. If the death occurs no more than 3 nautical miles from the shore, the personal injury law of the state applies. Meanwhile, the Death on the High Seas Act applies if the death occurs more than 3 nautical miles from the U.S. shoreline.

The Importance of the Death on the High Seas Act

Enacted in 1920, the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) is a federal statute that provides rights to families who lose loved ones to accidents at sea as a result of negligence. The principle application of the DOHSA today is incidents where passengers die on cruise ships that are out to sea.

Under the DOHSA, eligible survivors (such as spouses, children, parents, and other relatives dependent on the deceased) can recover damages for pecuniary loss (i.e., economic damages) only. In effect, survivors can only obtain compensation for loss of financial support provided by the decedent prior to death and any funeral or medical expenses paid by the survivors.

The decedent’s estate is not entitled to compensation for funeral expenses and medical bills under the DOHSA. In addition, family members cannot recover for non-economic damages such as loss of companionship and consortium, loss of parental guidance, and the pain and suffering of the deceased prior to death.

If a member of your family was killed at sea, the Death on the High Seas Act does allow you to pursue recovery of economic damages. Recoverable compensation for such a loss may be substantial. However, it is important to assess all of your legal options to determine if a separate claim can be brought for recovery of expenses incurred by the decedent prior to death as well as non-economic losses.

The maritime law of the United States provides important rights to seamen, longshore and harbor workers, and passengers of vessels. Unfortunately, recovering compensation for injuries and wrongful death can be extremely challenging. In some cases international law may take precedence, which can make it even more difficult to bring a claim.

You need a lawyer who understands the complexities of maritime law and how to fight for the compensation you deserve. Attorney Patrick Daniel is recognized as a leader in the field of maritime injury and accident litigation. Patrick Daniel Law is Strategic, Meticulous, and Merciless. We thoroughly review the facts of your case, develop a personalized legal strategy, and relentlessly pursue maximum recovery on your behalf.

Please call Patrick Daniel Law at (713) 999-6666 today for a free case evaluation. Our maritime injury lawyer serves clients in and around Houston, all of Texas, and nationwide and worldwide.


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