Container ship in the ocean.

An Overview of Maritime Law

Maritime law is a body of law that governs most legal issues involving navigable bodies of water. In addition to traditional notions of maritime law such as cabotage, insurance, and cargo claims, maritime law also applies to accidents bearing a significant relationship to a traditional maritime activity involving ships, vessels, and even aircraft.

The Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic Ocean, and all bodies of water in the United States that have access to the ocean are considered navigable waters. In addition, the term includes the lakes and rivers that support commerce between states. Below is an overview of U.S. maritime law. For additional guidance, please contact our Louisiana and Gulf of Mexico admiralty and maritime lawyers

Available Venues

Some maritime claims must be filed in federal court, while others may be filed in either state or federal court. State courts have concurrent jurisdiction with federal admiralty courts over in personam claims such as personal injury that can be resolved with a common law remedy. While only federal courts “sitting in admiralty” have jurisdiction over in rem maritime claims involving property such as enforcement of maritime liens, seizures of vessels, and cargo disputes. Therefore, if you have been injured in a maritime accident, or if you have a maritime lien on a vessel or other claim involving in rem procedure, you should ask your admiralty and maritime attorney which venue is appropriate for your case. 

Applicable Laws

Maritime law involves both state and federal law. State law is often used to provide the remedy, while federal law is often used to establish a right to enforce such a remedy. Key legislation in the area of maritime law includes the following.

General Maritime Law

This a broad body of doctrinal law derived from court decisions as opposed to statutory enactments by Congress. Both seamen and non-seamen, and vessel and aircraft owners utilize general maritime law to pursue such diverse claims as strict liability for torts caused by negligence, and restitutio in integrum, which allows owners of a damaged vessel to recover damages for the loss of her use while she is laid up for repairs.

The Jones Act

This law enables seamen to sue offshore employers for injuries suffered at sea.

The Longshoremen and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act

Commonly referred to as the LHWCA, this Act protects land-based maritime industry employees who have suffered injuries while on the job.

Defense Base Act

This Act is an extension of the LHWCA and establishes a federal workers’ compensation scheme for civilian contractors injured while working on U.S. military bases on foreign soil.

The Death on the High Seas Act 

This act of legislation protects the families of both maritime workers and individuals such as passengers on vessels and aircraft who are killed in international waters by the neglect, defect, or default of the aircraft or vessel owner and/or bareboat charterer of the vessel.  

The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act

This act displaces federal maritime law with respect to accidents occurring on offshore oil platforms and protects workers who are involved in exploration and production activities on the Outer Continental Shelf of the United States. It has also been interpreted to apply to injuries sustained on overseas offshore petroleum platforms. See Terry v. Raymond Int’l, Inc., 659 F.2d 398(405) (5th Cir. 1981).

Oil Pollution Act of 1990

This statutory framework, which consolidated and revised existing statutes such as the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, Deepwater Port Act, Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act, establishes a strict liability scheme for all claims for damages caused by oil both on land and on sea. Thus, OPA 90 displaces general maritime law for all claims related to oil spills emanating from vessels and/or land-based storage facilities.

Types of Maritime Law Claims

Maritime law is a unique and broad legal area that encompasses a multitude of different types of claims, including:

  • personal injury and wrongful death cases involving crew members, yacht passengers, cruise ship passengers, and seamen;
  • violations involving navigational errors committed by vessels resulting in injuries and casualties;
  • claims brought against vessels;
  • pollution and environmental claims;
  • piracy claims;
  • claims involving criminal activity in navigable waters;
  • fraud claims and breach-of-contract claims; and
  • employment law issues involving transport companies, ship owners, and crew members;
  • Loss of use, deferred production, restitutio in integrum, and other property damage claims.

Contact Our Experienced Gulf of Mexico and Louisiana Maritime Attorneys 

Maritime law is a complicated and diverse field of law. If you are the victim of a maritime accident, or if you possess or think you are entitled to a maritime lien arising out of failure to pay for bunkering or other services, please contact our experienced Louisiana and Gulf of Mexico admiralty and maritime lawyers. At Koch & Schmidt our knowledgeable and experienced admiralty and maritime lawyers have a well-earned reputation for providing both injury-victims and corporate clients with effective guidance and representation. Contact us today for a free evaluation of your case.