Living in Florida, we have ample opportunity to be out on the open water at any time and on any day. But when we are out there, we still have to follow the law – maritime law, that is.
“What is maritime law?” you may ask.
Well, maritime or admiralty law is a special body of law established to govern legal questions and offenses that occur on the water. While the laws were originally created in regards to national and international commerce, they have since expanded to include recreational and passenger boats, including small or large personal boats and even cruises or ferries.
So the next time you’re out on the water – any body of water, including ocean, coastal, and inland waterways – be aware that if an accident occurs, you are most likely operating under maritime or admiralty law.
Who Might Need a Maritime Lawyer?
There are numerous situations that might call for a maritime lawyer. If you have a boat and it crashes and causes damage or someone is injured, you should consult with a maritime lawyer. If you are the victim of a boat crash or accident, you will also benefit by contacting a maritime lawyer.
Other maritime law cases could include:
- Cruise passengers
- Ferry passengers
- Yacht passengers
- Recreational boaters
- Ship, dock, or harbor workers
- Oil rig workers
- Merchant marines
- Commercial fishermen
- Commercial ship crew members
Basically, if you work on or near the water or are a boat or ship guest or passenger, maritime law concerns you.
Situations where you might need a maritime lawyer include:
- Your boat collides with another boat
- Another boat collides into your boat
- Your boat hits a dock
- Someone else’s boat damages your dock
- Your ship or boat spills waste or any other pollutant in the water
- You are injured in a crash on open waters
- You injure someone else in a crash on open waters
While many of these situations are governed by maritime law, not every situation is. Depending on where your incident occurred and how it affected activities on the water can help determine if your situation is or isn’t covered by maritime law. Either way, a qualified maritime lawyer will be able to tell you whether maritime law applies to you.
Proving Maritime Law Claims
If you were injured while under maritime law and want to receive compensation for your injuries and losses, you will have to show that the liable party – the owner of the boat or ship – was negligent.
When someone is negligent, it means that they didn’t take reasonable care – or didn’t act reasonably – to protect others from foreseeable risks. To prove negligence, you will have to show that:
- You suffered an injury or loss
- Your injury or loss was caused by someone else
- The person who caused your injury or loss failed to exercise reasonable care
Each of these elements must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence. Basically, you have to prove that the other person was more likely than not to have caused your injuries.
If you are a seaman and generally spend at least 30 percent of your time working on navigable waters, the Jones Act applies to you. Under the Jones Act, the negligence standard is a bit more lenient. This makes it easier for seamen to file injury claims and obtain compensation. The plaintiff only has to prove that negligence on the part of an employer, vessel owner, crew member, or defective equipment played a part in their injuries – no matter how small that part is.
What to Do If You Are Involved in a Maritime Accident
If you are involved in a maritime accident, either as a worker or as a passenger, it’s important to make sure you properly document the accident and any evidence. Follow these steps for any maritime incident:
- Seek medical attention for any injuries from an independent provider.
- Report the accident to a supervisor or crew member.
- Take pictures of scene of the accident and the surrounding area to ensure you properly record any hazards.
- Document all of your injuries, even if they are minor.
- Take note of any malfunctioning, defective, or faulty equipment.
- Talk to witnesses who saw the accident happen or who can vouch for the vessel being unsafe.
Whether you find yourself the victim or the cause of a maritime accident, it is in your best interest to seek representation from an experienced maritime lawyer with a successful track record who will be your advocate from the beginning of your case to the very end.
About the Author:
Steven Slootsky is a 1985 graduate of Nova Law School, which means he’s been a practicing Fort Lauderdale injury lawyer for more than 2 decades. He founded the Law Offices of The Injury Law Firm of South Florida in 1991. The Fort Lauderdale-based accident attorney is a member of the Florida Bar, as well as the Federal Bar for the Southern District for the U.S. District Court. During his career as a personal injury lawyer/auto accident compensation attorney, Steven has served as the co-chair of the Workers’ Compensation section for Broward County, Florida. He is also a Bronze member of the Florida Workers Advocates, a former member of the board, and serves as an “Eagle” member of the Florida Academy of Trial Lawyers.