The Basics of Maritime Law
Maritime law is derived from many sources, including federal statutes and general maritime law. These sources provide some of the maritime doctrines that are commonly used in cases involving vessels and their passengers and crew.
Maritime law sets forth many of the basic legal tenets associated with the sea and seamen, including:
- Seaman’s Right to Maintenance & Cure: Maintenance and cure refer to the benefits a seaman is entitled to until he/she recovers and is fit for duty. However, there is a maximum medical improvement limit that can control the amount of compensation received. Maintenance includes such expenses as the seaman’s rent or mortgage, utilities, property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, and food. Cure is similar to workers’ compensation benefits for employees; it covers costs related to medical treatment for the work-related injury. A seaman is someone who is a captain or crew member aboard a vessel in navigation. Also similar to workers' compensation, maintenance and cure does not require that the seaman prove any fault for their injury—the employer is required to pay.
- The Jones Act: The Jones Act is a federal law that gives seamen a statutory right to sue their employer for personal injury damages. However, a seaman must spend at least 30% of their time working on a vessel to qualify for the Jones Act. Not only does the Jones Act provide the seaman a statutory right to sue their employer, it also eases the burden of proof needed to prove causation between the employer’s negligence and the seaman’s injury; under the Jones Act, the employer’s negligence only needs to play a part in the seaman’s injury rather than being a proximate cause. The Jones Act also incorporates aspects of the Federal Employment Liability Act. In particular, claims filed in state court under the Jones Act are not removable to federal court.
- The Death on the High Seas Act: When the death of an individual is caused by a wrongful act or neglect occurring on the high seas, the DOHSA guarantees that a personal representative of the decedent can bring a claim.
- The Saving to Suitors Clause: Federal law establishes exclusive jurisdiction for admiralty and maritime cases in the federal district courts absent any language indicating the contrary within a statutorily created right, such as the Jones Act. However, the “saving to suitors” clause reserves any non-admiralty remedies that may be available to an individual. An example of an admiralty remedy is a suit in which the claim is brought against the ship.
- The Longshore and Harbor Worker’s Compensation Act: Federal law created certain statutory rights for employees not necessarily “seamen” but who nonetheless work on harbors or vessels that are under repair or being built. This law covers longshore workers, ship-repairers, shipbuilders or ship-breakers, and harbor construction workers. Injuries must occur on navigable waters or an adjoining area, such as a dock. This law provides for compensation and medical care for an individual injured while on the job, or survivor benefits. The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act extends the LHWCA to employees engaged in offshore drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf.
History of Admiralty & Maritime Law
Maritime law—also referred to as admiralty law—is nearly as old as the shipping industry itself and governs most accidents that occur on navigable waters. The law’s roots can be traced back to the unwritten customs of nautical behavior of the Egyptians and Greeks. However, the earliest formal codes were established around 900 BC on the Greek island of Rhodes. The original maritime laws and codes stemmed from the ancient customs and rules of shipping.
For example, the Doctrine of General Average—the concept that all sea cargo stakeholders (owner, shipper, etc.) evenly share any damage or losses that may occur as a result of a voluntary sacrifice of part of the vessel or cargo to save the whole—can be traced back to the early shipping customs of the Rhodians.
The concept of a separate legal authority regulating maritime issues was brought to the west by Eleanor of Aquitaine, who learned of the concept when she accompanied her first husband King Louis VII of France to the Mediterranean on the Second Crusade. The term admiralty law came from the British admiralty courts, who presided over maritime matters separately from England's common law courts. As the U.S. judicial system is based on the British system, amended admiralty laws were gradually incorporated into our legal system soon after the Constitution was ratified.
Though still based on industry standards and customs, maritime law is largely found in the U.S. Constitution, treatises and international conventions, federal statutes, the general maritime law, and other judicial decisions, administrative regulations, and customs.
When Does Maritime Law Apply?
Perhaps most obviously, maritime law applies to events that occur on high seas—accidents that happen beyond the territorial waters of any country. Furthermore, maritime law applies to the territorial sea, which are waters within 12 miles of the shore. However, the law’s applicability becomes less clear further inland. Early in U.S. history, maritime law did not apply to incidents that occurred within the “body of the country” and therefore excluded incidents involving the Great Lakes and nontidal inland waterways. However, throughout the 19th century, this exclusion eroded away.
Maritime law is now applied to “navigable waters.”
A waterway is deemed navigable if by itself, or by uniting with other waters, it can serve as a “continued highway over which commerce is or may be carried on with other States or foreign countries.” Consequently, if a body of water is completely landlocked within a single state, then it is not navigable for purposes of admiralty jurisdiction. However, a body of water doesn’t need to flow between states to be deemed navigable. A body of water may be deemed navigable if it is a link in a chain of bodies of water that can be used to service interstate commerce. Ultimately, the test is that the commerce of one state must be capable of being carried into another state or a foreign country. Once this test has been passed, it is likely that maritime law will be applicable, even if it is a recreational vessel.
Jurisdiction in Maritime Law Cases
In the U.S., jurisdiction over admiralty law matters was originally given to the federal courts. However, today most admiralty cases can be heard by both state and federal courts under the Saving to Suitors Clause in Title 28 of the United States Code (28 U.S.C. § 1333). The exception to this is any matter involving maritime property; those cases may only be tried in federal court. If a state court presides over an admiralty case, the court is required to apply admiralty law.
Maritime Law as It Applies to Employers
Under general maritime law, ship owners are required to keep their vessels maintained per a certain standard. As the employer and owner, the vessel holder must preserve the safety and structure of the ship in a way appropriate for all employees on board. Manning, equipping, and supplying the vessel are all key aspects of a ship owner's duty per maritime law. Subsequently, if an employee of the vessel becomes injured or ill due to a ship’s unseaworthiness, the owner will be held accountable for any loss.
How Does Maritime Law Provide for Hurt Workers?
Without maritime law, injured seamen would be left on their own with the suffering they sustained while working. Anytime a ship employee becomes injured or sick, the vessel owner is required to reimburse their losses. Maritime law refers to this reimbursement as maintenance and cure, meaning that until the seaman fully recovers, the employer must provide for their affliction. The court views this obligation as an unquestionable duty that the shipowner owes any seaman aboard their vessel. Seamen are also eligible to recover full wages for the length of the voyage during which they sustained injuries or illness. An employment contract may dictate the amount of unearned wages a seaman can receive.
Incidents That Require Texas Maritime Accident Attorneys
Houston maritime injury attorneys exist to help injured seamen or dock workers get the compensation they need to recover from serious injuries and afford long-term medical costs that occurred offshore. That includes any accidents that occur on "navigable waters" (rivers and ocean) and in harbors or docks.
Our maritime lawyers have represented clients who were injured in:
One notable aspect of maritime accidents is they're often devastating. Oil rig explosions cause significant damages, vessel collisions are frequently catastrophic, and oil platforms can unfairly change the lives of workers. Maritime lawyers fight to help workers recover the compensation they deserve, whether they're suffering after a major explosion or have injuries caused by unsafe working conditions. Our maritime attorneys represented more crew members of the Deepwater Horizon and the El Faro than any other law firm. We not only understand maritime law but the practices and culture of maritime employers. Speak with us to discuss your case so we can go over your legal and financial options.
Understanding Maritime Injuries
In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control released a report examining fatal maritime injuries from 2003 to 2010. It found that those working in the offshore oil and gas industry are seven times more likely to die than workers in other industries.
However, the oil and gas industry isn’t the only common sector for maritime injuries.
Anytime people are on a vessel or working in the maritime industry, dangerous conditions are present, and vessel owners and employers must take appropriate measures to protect them.
Those in charge of a vessel are responsible for maritime injuries. Vessel owners and employers must ensure they provide safety training for workers and ensure that their ships and rigs are seaworthy. This is true even in the face of natural disasters and heavy weather like hurricanes and tropical storms. Rough seas are no excuse for a vessel capsizing or sinking, if the owner knew of the storm and failed to evacuate crew or take measures to evade it.
Vessel owners and employers are responsible for making sure the following exist:
- Safety training
- Safety equipment
- Vessel maintenance
- Safe work practices
Offshore workers who sustain maritime injuries have a chance for recovery through the Jones Act.
Recovering Full Costs for Maritime & Offshore Accidents
Following a serious accident, injured seamen may face a host of costs. These do not only have an immediate impact but can affect them for years. In almost all cases, the immediate effects are obvious in the inability to work, steep bills, and the pain and suffering associated with the injury or illness. Even the future costs of rehabilitation are often well-known. However, it is not always easy to see what the future costs of an injury will be. In some cases, the individual may require lifelong medical attention or may eventually pass away from the side effects. For this reason, it is crucial that the injured and their family recover just damages for the injury under maritime law.
Consider these costs that could result from a maritime injury or death of a seaman:
- Long-term rehabilitation
- In-home care
- Lost wages and earning capacity
- Emotional and financial counseling
- Vocational rehabilitation
Catastrophic Maritime Injuries
In some instances, an offshore accident can cause injuries that are so serious that they change a person's life permanently. These types of injuries are so notorious that the medical and legal community has a word for them: catastrophic injuries. When a person has this type of offshore injury, their injuries will likely impact the rest of their life. In some instances, certain injuries mean that a person won't be able to earn a living with physical work as they once did. In other cases, it means that every aspect of a person's life is impacted by the severity of their injuries.
Serious maritime injuries that change lives include:
Often, these offshore injuries require a lifetime of medical care. When workers are suffering from an accident they didn't cause, they deserve compensation for the care that will make their life as comfortable as possible.
Maritime Burn Injuries
One of the most catastrophic injuries that can occur in a maritime accident is a burn injury. If you suffered a burn injury during a maritime accident, it is vital to contact a top-rated Houston maritime burn injury lawyer as quickly as possible. Arnold & Itkin has helped hundreds of injured seamen advocate for their rights, including those who have suffered serious burn injuries while working offshore. Experienced maritime workers know that fires can ignite in most offshore environments. These incidents can lead to severe burn injuries.
Common causes of offshore burn injuries include the following:
- Contact with Hazardous Chemicals: Highly flammable chemicals can cause severe burns.
- Electrical Accidents: Faulty or improperly handled electrical equipment can spark a fire.
- Engine Room Fires: Malfunctions in the engine room can cause an explosion or fire.
- Equipment Malfunctions: Hazardous or defective equipment can cause a fire.
- Explosions: Caused by highly flammable chemicals used for vessels or onboard equipment.
Types of Burn Injuries a Maritime Worker Can Experience
There are several degrees of burns depending on the severity. Burn injuries can be caused by extreme heat, electricity, chemicals, radiation, or friction. Any of these burn hazards are present on seafaring vessels or offshore rigs.
Burn injuries can range from mild to life-altering burns, including:
- First-Degree Burns: This is usually a surface burn that does not necessarily require medical attention.
- Second-Degree Burns: This is a more severe burn that may cause blisters and may extend below the surface.
- Third & Fourth-Degree Burns: These are the most serious burn injuries because they extend through the entire layer of tissue that lies below the surface. This layer contains structures, such as nerve endings, sweat glands, hair follicles, and blood capillaries. These burn injuries are much more severe and will require a longer healing process.
Serious Burn Injury Complications
- Hypothermia resulting from the loss of body heat due to the damaged skin.
- Hypovolemia from damaged blood vessels causing your body to lose blood and other fluids.
- Infections resulting from the lack of protective barriers due to the damaged skin.
- Joint difficulties can result from the build-up of scar tissue.
- Sepsis can result from an infection—this is a life-threatening condition.
Maritime Brain Injuries
Head injuries occur frequently in the maritime industry—depending on the severity of the injury, lifelong treatment may be needed. In many cases it may seem as though injury could have not been prevented; in reality, many brain injury accidents could have been prevented with the proper precautions. If that's the case, you may be able to file a claim.
Some of the most common causes of brain injuries include:
- Broken equipment
- Conveyor belt accidents
- Crane and cargo accidents
- Improper safety guidelines/training
- Improperly stored equipment
- Lack of safety equipment
- Poor ship maintenance
- Slip and fall accidents
Types of Brain Injuries & Common Symptoms
When a maritime worker suffers a head injury, it’s one of two types: a closed head injury or an open head injury. A closed head injury is when an injury doesn’t cause the skull to be broken, fractured, or pierced. An open head injury is when the skull is pierced or fractured. Although open head injuries may seem more severe, closed head injuries are difficult to diagnose and can require extensive treatment. Common symptoms of brain injuries include:
- Cognitive Damage – Memory loss, trouble with concentration and attention.
- Sensory Symptoms – Loss of vision, hearing loss, or loss of taste or smell.
- Physical Symptoms – Seizures, headaches, paralysis, insomnia, chronic pain, or language difficulties.
- Behavioral/Emotional Symptoms – Irritability, anger, depression, and dramatic mood swings.
Any brain damage can have a serious impact on an employee’s daily life, altering their personality and their ability to make a living. When a brain injury happens because an employer or co-worker was negligent, it’s vital for injured people to hold at-fault parties accountable—for their own sake, the sake of other employees, and the sake of the loved ones.
Maritime Amputation Injuries
Although not all maritime injuries are caused by negligence, that is often the case with amputation. If an employer or vessel owner fails to maintain equipment, train the crew, or create a safe work environment, it can cause serious injuries.
Some of these accidents may be caused due to the following:
- Unsecured cargo
- Navigation collisions
- Lack of safety and equipment training
- Defective and malfunctioning equipment
It is vital to work with equipment and machinery that is regularly maintained so that it is working correctly. It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that workers are properly trained to use the equipment. If your employer has not met this standard and you lost a limb as a result, he or she was negligent and should be held accountable.
Surgery is required to treat a lost limb or to amputate a limb. Once you have had surgery, you may still need extensive physical and emotional therapy to help you adjust to the new reality of missing a limb or using a prosthetic limb. These payment costs can be difficult for an injured maritime worker to handle, especially while supporting a family. Our firm often has to help our clients rebuild their financial security in the wake of costly medical treatments. This is why it is vital to contact a maritime amputation injury attorney as soon as possible.
What Are Common Causes of Maritime Injuries?
Common causes of maritime injuries are accidents that should have been prevented and weren't. Importantly, it's the duty of vessel owners and employers to prevent these accidents and protect workers.
Maritime injuries are often caused by:
- Dangerous deck conditions
- Toxic exposure
- Explosions and fires
- Unseaworthy vessels
- Sailing in dangerous conditions
- Lack of safety training
- Enclosed spaces
- Falling objects
- Mechanical failures
- Slip and falls
Maritime Injuries: Do You Know Your Rights?
After an accident, one of the most important things you can do is to ensure all your needs are met; however, this can be difficult. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind a few issues that could be compromised.
- First, remember you have the legal right to select your doctor. Never feel obligated to choose the doctor's office or attending physician your business or insurance company may be pushing on you. Often, you will need to see the recommended doctor for an evaluation, but this is the extent of your obligation. Who you choose for treatment is up to you, and you should not be threatened by any employer or adjuster you may be working with in regard to your case.
- Second, you are entitled to medical treatment. The provision of medical benefits is protected under the Jones Act, so injured workers need not worry about being compensated for recovery. This is true regardless of who may be at fault for the accident. Furthermore, the Jones Act protects injured seamen who may be given differing opinions by doctors. This means that if one doctor recommends treatment while another claims it is not necessary, the disagreement will be resolved in favor of treatment. Unfortunately, many injured seamen have not been hurt for the first time. However, if a pre-existing condition is aggravated, then employers will be obligated to ensure that adequate coverage is provided. All that will be needed is an evidentiary statement made by your doctor on your behalf. You are entitled to medical benefits and financial maintenance payments, whether or not you sign paperwork brought forth by an insurance adjuster. In fact, it is in your best interests to be cautious of any documents brought to you by an insurance adjuster; they often don't have your safety and well-being as a priority. As such, you should be hesitant to sign any paperwork under the condition that medical benefits and/or maintenance payments rely on a signature.
- Third, you are not required to give a recorded statement after any sort of accident and/or injury. Of course, reporting the incident as quickly as possible is a crucial step of the process; however, attention must be paid to the fact that many accidents can affect the memory and mental functioning of an injured person. Therefore, it is unwise to record a statement of events that may later need to be adjusted—a process that can prove to be quite difficult.
From the initial filing of a claim to the preparation and proceedings of a court case, there are a number of instances in which your rights can be compromised. Unsympathetic employers and insurance companies care little, if at all, about the well-being of injured employees. Therefore, is it imperative to seek legal representation from an attorney who does care.
What Should I Do After a Maritime Accident?
There are five things you should do after a maritime accident:
- Get the medical attention you need.
- Inform your employer about your injury.
- Compile all information about your accident, who saw it, and the circumstances surrounding it.
- Don't sign any documents, answer any questions, or give any statements.
- Call a maritime lawyer.
You should always speak with a lawyer after a maritime accident to make sure your rights are being protected. A lawyer will listen to your story, ask you questions, and help you decide what your options are at no cost.
Why Do I Need to Hire a Houston Maritime Injury Lawyer?
If you are not ready to consider litigation, you should still consult with an experienced Texas maritime attorney to discuss your claim. In many instances, your company may ask you to sign an agreement or release in exchange for payment of unearned wages, maintenance, or medical benefits. It is imperative that you have any documents you are given reviewed by a competent Houston maritime injury attorney before signing so you do not waive any of your rights to recovery.
Perhaps the most important reason you need a lawyer is that employers and insurance companies have teams of lawyers representing them. Their goal is to dispose of your claim as cheaply as possible. The only way to level the playing field with your employer or the insurance company is to have an experienced attorney representing your interests. As an injured employee, you are new to the process, whereas your employer, their insurer, and their attorneys deal with these cases on a regular basis. It is critical that you have a team who regularly handles maritime law claims.
Hire a Top-Rated Texas Maritime Accident Attorney for Your Case
An experienced maritime lawyer can review your case's facts and determine your best legal options.
They will do this by examining the following:
- Your worker status at the time of injury
- The seaworthiness of the vessel you were working on
- The timeframe for bringing a claim
- All other factors that may have contributed to your injury
Another reason you may benefit from hiring a lawyer is they know how to deal with offshore companies. On your own, you may feel like you have no hope. After all, you're just one person, and your company is likely an established corporation. There is no reason why you can't have aggressive representation as well.
Our Texas Maritime Lawyers Can Help: Call (888) 493-1629!
At Arnold & Itkin, we have seen all too often how maritime injuries occur not only in the Gulf of Mexico but also in our inland waterways and around the globe. For this reason, we remain wholly committed to helping injured workers and their families recover just compensation. We believe what we do is about more than just money. We work tirelessly to see that our clients recover not only financially, but physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Our team is dedicated to helping people and families who have suffered from life-changing injuries recover the compensation they need for past, current, and future costs. We help clients nationwide, including Dallas, Baton Rouge, and beyond. Armed with years of experience, we have a unique perspective in our approach, and we will work toward helping our clients receive the compensation that they need to pay for the long-term costs.
If you believe you have a case that falls under maritime law, contact our firm. During your free consultation, you can get your questions answered and learn how we can help.