Were you injured at sea? Your case might qualify as “maritime” claim. Were you injured on a dock or river? You could still have a maritime case on your hands.
Although maritime cases hold a few similarities with workers' compensation and personal injury, there are many considerable (and confusing) differences between the law of the land and the law of the sea. All three practice areas, however, surround a suffering individual's desire to obtain justice and compensation.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult for the average person to determine whether a given case falls under workers' compensation, general personal injury, or maritime law. Below, we provide a brief overview of maritime law—and examples of cases that might fall under this category.
So what is maritime law exactly?
Sometimes referred to as “admiralty law,” maritime law involves all legislation governing behavior on bodies of water. This can include how people do business or interact with one another in water-based situations or settings.
Once intended to govern ocean-based activities, maritime law now covers all navigable waters, including bodies of water used for foreign or interstate commerce. If your injury occurred on or around a body of water—or if it involved a vessel or activities related to maritime functions—it may qualify as a maritime case.
Application of state vs. federal jurisdiction
Another common source of confusion, especially in Texas maritime cases, is whether a legal matter should be resolved in state or federal courts. According to Title 28 U.S. Code § 1333, federal courts maintain jurisdiction over all maritime matters.
Federal law allows for “joint and several liability,” in which multiple parties can be sued for maritime injuries. However, plaintiffs often file cases in state courts, even if they qualify to file their cases in federal court under federal legislation.
When hearing cases based on federal legislation, state courts must apply federal law for all substantive matters. Differences are thus typically restricted to procedural matters. This is where cases filed in state court prove more favorable for plaintiffs; federal procedure typically requires more steps between filing and trial.
Given the complexities of maritime jurisdiction, it's imperative that you work with an attorney who is well-versed in maritime law. Federal and state cases both hold unique advantages and disadvantages, so it's critical that your attorney works within the proper jurisdiction.
Example of maritime cases
Maritime cases can vary wildly. These legal matters can occur on virtually any body of water or, in rare cases, on land. The following are common examples of maritime cases in Texas:
- Commercial shipping accidents
- Commercial fishing accidents
- Slip and fall accidents on ferries, cruises, or other passenger vessels
- Accidents involving equipment, such as forklifts or cranes, when working on or near navigable waters
- Falls overboard
- Chemical exposure from working with toxic cargo
- Repetitive use injuries among maritime workers
Texas Maritime law: The Jones Act and the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act
Many of the examples outlined above fall under the Jones Act, which protects Americans who work at sea. Under the Jones Act, maritime employees who become injured on the job can obtain compensation from their employers. Those who qualify under the Jones Act can bring negligence cases against employers—a distinct difference from standard workers' compensation cases.
Employees not covered under the Jones Act can often obtain damages under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, which covers workers injured on docks, piers, terminals, harbors, and other facilities on or near navigable waters.
If you believe you've suffered a maritime injury (or just aren't quite sure), don’t hesitate to contact an attorney with experience in handling these types of cases. Not all attorneys are familiar with this unique area of the law, so make sure your lawyer has a track record of success in maritime law.