At Pepper & Odom, P.C. our attorneys have decades of experience handling cases involving maritime law, including accidents involving oil rigs, commercial fishing vessels, tugboats, cruise ships, recreational vessels, barges, shipyard mishaps, and more. Maritime law is extremely complex, so if you are a seaman or maritime worker who has been injured, it is critical to seek the counsel of a knowledgeable attorney.

What Is Maritime Law?

Also known as admiralty law, maritime law governs accidents and injuries that happen to workers and others on or near oceans, seas, lakes, rivers, and other navigable bodies of water suitable for international and interstate commerce. Maritime laws include the Jones Act and the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA), which provide compensation for seamen and maritime workers who have been hurt on the job.

What Is The Jones Act?

The Jones Act is a federal law that regulates maritime commerce. It gives seamen who have been hurt in the course of their employment the right to bring a claim against their employer for damages. Unlike most workers, seamen are not eligible for traditional workers’ compensation benefits but may be able to collect compensation for lost wages, medical expenses, pain and suffering, and other damages through the Jones Act and other general maritime laws. However, under the Jones Act, a seaman must prove that the vessel’s owner or employer was negligent and that their negligence caused injury.

Who Is Considered A Seaman?

Generally, to be considered a seaman you must perform the majority of your work on a vessel such as a ship or boat. Your job may include duties on navigable waters and onshore, but the Jones Act typically requires workers to spend at least 30% of their working time on a vessel that is capable of moving to be considered a seaman. Not everyone who works in the maritime industry is considered a seaman. For example, a worker on a fixed oil rig may not be covered by the Jones Act, but someone who works on a submersible oil rig may be.

Who Is Covered Under The Federal Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act?

Most maritime workers who are not eligible for compensation under the Jones Act may file a claim under the LHWCA. Some other maritime laws may also apply in these types of cases.

What Does Unseaworthy Mean?

Under maritime law, a vessel’s owner and operator owe seamen and other workers a duty to provide a safe workplace and seaworthy vessel. This means that the vessel and anything that is part of it or used in connection with it must be safe and in proper working order. Under the unseaworthiness doctrine, a vessel must also have an adequate, capable crew. Some examples of issues that could make a vessel unseaworthy and an owner liable for injuries include:

  • A slick deck without non-skid material
  • Slippery substances on ladders, improperly stowed ropes, and other items that cause slip and fall accidents
  • Worn out fixtures and equipment
  • Lack of proper equipment
  • Improperly designed equipment
  • Dangerous gangways or inadequate access between the vessel and shore
  • Insufficient crew
  • Excessive working hours
  • Lack of proper warnings
  • Failure to follow safety rules
  • Improper training of crew
  • Insufficient supervision
  • Inadequate safety procedures