Admiralty law (also known as maritime law) is a body of law governing the conduct of vessels and incidents occurring at sea. Although most countries have their own laws regarding maritime commerce, seamen, and the conveyance of passengers, many aspects of admiralty law are recognized internationally through multilateral treaties.
History of Admiralty and Maritime Law
As ships provided one of the earliest methods for transporting goods over long distances, rules regulating shipping can be traced all the way back to the ancient Greeks in approximately 900 B.C. The concept of a separate legal authority regulating maritime issues was brought to the west by Eleanor of Aquitaine, who learned of the concept when she accompanied her first husband King Louis VII of France to the Mediterranean on the Second Crusade.
The term admiralty law came from the British admiralty courts, who presided over maritime matters separately from England's common law courts. As the United States judicial system is based on the British system, amended admiralty laws were gradually incorporated into the U.S. legal system soon after the U.S. Constitution was ratified.
Features of Admiralty Law
Admiralty law sets forth many of the basic legal tenants associated with the sea and seamen, including:
- The right of a rescuer to claim a Marine Salvage award for recovering property that was lost at sea.
- The right for creditors and seamen who are owed wages to have a Maritime Lien against a vessel as a security interest to insure they are paid.
- The duty for ship owners to provide reasonable care to passengers, and if negligence results in a passenger injury, suit may be brought against the ship owner just as if the injury had occurred on land.
- The benefit of maintenance and cure, which requires ship owners to care for crew members injured in service to a ship. Maintenance obligates ship owners to provide injured seamen with basic living expenses until they are able to return to work, while cure obligates ship owners to provide free medical care even if that care is long-term or permanent until an injured seaman reaches the state of maximum medical cure (i.e. being returned as close as medically possible to the condition the seaman was in prior to the injury).
Admiralty Law in the United States
In the United States, jurisdiction over admiralty law matters was originally given to the federal courts. However, today most admiralty cases can be heard by both state and federal courts under the saving to suitors clause in Title 28 of the United States Code (28 U.S.C. § 1333). The exception to this is any matter involving maritime property; those cases may only be tried in federal court. If a state court presides over an admiralty or maritime case, the court is required to apply admiralty or maritime law rather than its state law.
Since admiralty law is a large and complex body of law separate from the civil or criminal law that most attorneys practice, it is important for individuals with maritime cases to be represented by a qualified personal injury lawyer with a proven track record of prosecuting admiralty law cases. At Arnold & Itkin LLP, we know what is at stake when we take on a claim of this nature and we are prepared to go the distance in our efforts to helping our clients seek the just and desirable outcome that they deserve.
If you are a seaman who has suffered an injury or has a question about an admiralty law issue, it is important to contact a maritime lawyer from our firm for a free consultation.