Where Does Maritime Law Apply?

where does maritime law apply​

Much of the United States borders water sources significant enough to engage in commercial activity. Whether it is a river, lake, stream, coast, or cape, Americans interact with these bodies of water on a daily basis. However, only a few of us know precisely what laws govern our waterways and how they can impact us legally. Let us discuss the reality the waterways play in our daily lives.

What is Maritime Law?

Maritime law, also known as admiralty law, is a body of statutes, regulations, and legal cases that cover our interaction with waterways across the United States. This can include regulation of commercial activity, identification of jurisdiction of legal disputes, personal injuries, access to water for trade and consumption, environmental protection, and national security – to name a few.

According to a study by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 127 million people (40% of the country) live bordering the coast. Further, approximately 30 million Americans (10% of the country) live in the Great Lakes Region. Either figure does not count other significant waterways. Thus, it is crucial to recognize that much of the U.S. interacts, in one sense or another, with maritime law.

What is a Navigable Waterway?

To understand maritime law, it is crucial to under the concept of a “navigable waterway.” Under 33 C.R.F. § 329.4, a navigable waterway is defined as “waters that are subject to the ebb and flow of the tide and / or are presently used, or have been used in the past, or may be susceptible for use to transport interstate or foreign commerce.” Thus, maritime law can apply to any body of water that can be navigated for purposes of interstate commerce.

Does Maritime Law Apply on Land?

Yes, maritime law can impact commercial activity on land that is directly tied to commercial activity on a navigable waterway. Often, much activity that occurs on a harbor, port, or dock that is directly connected to a navigable waterway but is not on the water itself is governed by maritime law. These laws address the licensing and regulation of cargo, safety requirements for workers, personal injury claims, and contracts for shipping and transportation. Notably, certain personal injuries that occur on land can fall under maritime law.

Examples of Injuries Covered Under Maritime Law

Although maritime law addresses a wide range of commercial activity, many injuries covered under maritime law apply to activities occurring on a navigable waterway. These types of injuries can include:

  • Slip-and-fall: individuals that slip and fall, which can be caused by wet surfaces, poor construction, and upkeep, equipment failure, etc.
  • Drowning: individuals on, near, or in the water can be subject to drowning.
  • Dredging-related injuries: a dredging accident occurs when sediment, debris, and other materials are removed from a waterway, which can cause dangerous conditions ripe with opportunities for injury.
  • Electrocution: close proximity to water and the presence of heavy machinery and utility infrastructure heightens the risk of electrical exposure.
  • Falling overboard: individuals navigating a waterway on a commercial ship risk falling off their vessel. This can cause drowning, hypothermia, or other related injuries.

Examples of Maritime Law

Thousands of laws and regulations make up the complex and ever-changing nature of maritime law. However, the statutes below derive the crucial laws that impact many of those directly or indirectly connected with maritime activities.

The Jones Act

What is the Jones Act? Under the Jones Act, maritime employees, namely shipping and cargo companies, must provide employees with reasonably safe working conditions on all vessels. The Jones Act provides workers the ability to sue for negligence if hurt during the course of their employment while operating on navigable waters. The threshold for proving negligence is much lower compared to most other workplace accidents. Employees need only to show that their employer was responsible for the conditions that led to the accident, even if the employer’s actions or omission were small.

Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA)

The Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) allows the estate of a deceased person to bring a wrongful death claim against an entity for a death that occurred out at sea. Because negligence actions are typically brought under state law, DOHSA provides a cause of action for vessels under U.S. jurisdiction where an offshore accident occurred outside of any coastal state.

Under DOHSA, a person must have died past three nautical miles of the United States. The estate of the deceased person has three years from the date of the person’s death to file a cause of action. Also, DOHSA applies to aviation accidents over the water past 12 nautical miles of the United States.

Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act

The Longshoreman and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act applies to accidents sustained by longshoreman, harbor workers, and even clerical and maintenance staff who work for any harbor, port, pier, or shipyard. The Act covers injuries, occupational illnesses, and chronic diseases caused by prolonged work in the longshoreman industry. The compensation provided to injured and sick workers extends to other workers in other occupations, including private companies and contractors that work on U.S. military bases and workers in the exploration and extraction of offshore natural resources.

Determining Whether Maritime Law Applies to Your Injury

In many cases, determining whether an injury is subject to maritime law is straightforward. However, in other instances, choosing whether maritime law applies can be much more complicated. Below are standard features of a maritime accident case that those injured due to maritime activities should be mindful of.

Location of the Accident

Generally, maritime law applies to accidents on a navigable waterway, which means the accident happened on the water itself. In most cases, accidents that occur on land may not be subject to maritime law. Exceptions may include the cause of the accident or the employment of the injured person.

Nature of the Underlying Activity

Sometimes, commercial activity, regardless of the location, renders an accident subject to maritime law. This can include the type of commercial activity tied to the circumstance that led to an accident. For example, a dock worker who slips and falls in the parking lot is likely more subject to typical negligence laws, while the same worker who slips and falls on a vessel is subject to maritime law.

Maritime Commercial Activities

Additionally, potential plaintiffs must determine whether the cause of their injury is connected with a maritime activity. For example, a cargo ship worker injured after falling off the vessel is subject to maritime law. However, the same worker injured due to the defect of a forklift on the vessel is more related to a product liability cause of action.

Speak With a Maritime Accident Lawyer at Dax F. Garza P.C. Today

Workers and civilians injured on U.S. waterways may be entitled to compensation under maritime law. When a person is injured on the water or due to a connection with commercial activity on navigable waters, they may have a cause of action to address their injury.

If you or a loved one has recently been injured due to a maritime accident, our law firm can help. Please contact the Houston maritime law injury attorneys at Dax F. Garza, P.C. today for a free case evaluation.

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