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What Is Maritime Law?

Maritime law, also known as admiralty law, is a unique legal jurisdiction that governs private maritime business and other nautical matters. It is an independent legal system separate from national laws in most developed countries. This specialized area of law deals with various aspects of maritime activities, including shipping, navigation, marine commerce, and the rights and obligations of parties involved in maritime activities. Admiralty law in the US is primarily governed by federal statutes, with the Admiralty and Maritime Claims Jurisdiction Act of 1980 being an important legislation. Furthermore, International conventions, such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, contribute to the establishment of uniformity in maritime law.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) plays a crucial role in ensuring that international maritime conventions are up to date. This specialized agency of the United Nations regulates registration, licensing, inspection procedures, and maritime insurance. The IMO’s mission is to promote safe, secure, and environmentally responsible shipping.

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Ship registration is an important aspect of maritime law as it determines a ship’s nationality and the laws that govern it. Some shipowners choose to register their ships in countries with lenient laws. This practice, known as “flags of convenience,” allows shipowners to take advantage of favorable regulations, taxation, and labor conditions. However, this can lead to safety concerns and issues related to the enforcement of maritime laws. Finally, to answer a common question, yes, piracy is a recognized offense under admiralty law, and its jurisdiction allows any nation to pursue pirates on the high seas. 


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What Is the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act?

Fortunately, for those working in maritime professions who’ve been injured on the job, there is a federal law, the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act (LHWCA), that provides benefits and protection for employees who have been injured in these occupations.

The LHWCA is designed to provide compensation, medical care, and rehabilitation services to employees who have been injured while working in traditional maritime occupations such as longshore workers, shipbuilders, and harbor construction workers. Additionally, coverage of the LHWCA extends beyond these traditional maritime occupations to include certain military bases and public works or Department of Defense contracts.

Certain individuals who are, however, excluded from coverage under the LHWCA. For example, sailors and government employees are not included. People whose injuries were caused by their own willful intention are also excluded. In these cases, different laws and regulations may provide protection. If you are, for example, a dock worker or in the fishing industry, just save yourself the trouble and speak to a knowledgeable Houston maritime law attorney for the quickest and easiest clarification.

To continue, unlike the Jones Act, which specifically covers crew members of vessels, the LHWCA is designed to protect and compensate employees injured in maritime occupations. The Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) administers the LHWCA and is responsible for helping to resolve claim disputes and providing vocational rehabilitation. Moreover, according to the LHWCA, employees should report their injuries promptly and file a claim for compensation within one year of the injury. Failing to do so may result in the loss of your right to seek the benefits and compensation you are legally entitled to.

Additionally, under the LHWCA, like worker’s compensation, disability benefits are provided for both temporary and permanent disabilities. The compensation is calculated based on the employee’s average weekly wage. Additionally, the LHWCA establishes a Special Fund that may provide compensation if the employer or insurance company is insolvent or bankrupt. The LHWCA allows employees to select their own treating physicians as well. Additionally, where an employee’s injury results in a permanent disability, vocational rehabilitation services are available, which includes job retraining, job placement assistance, and career counseling. The goal of vocational rehabilitation is to empower permanently disabled employees to regain their independence and find meaningful employment.

How the Admiralty Law Works

Admiralty law is a distinct legal field because it governs a jurisdiction that does not belong to any one country. Because of this international nature, it is a complex area of law that requires specific knowledge and experience. 

What Is an Admiralty Court?

An admiralty court is a specialized court that has jurisdiction over maritime matters. These courts have the authority to hear cases involving maritime accidents, injuries, collisions, salvage claims, and other disputes that occur on the open sea, inland waterways, and even cases that take place in ports. These courts apply maritime law, which is derived from both international conventions and domestic statutes and regulations.

Where Does Maritime Law Apply?

Maritime law applies in waters that are considered navigable and subject to interstate or international trade. This includes oceans, seas, rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water that are used for transportation, commerce, and shipping purposes. In the United States, admiralty jurisdiction extends to all navigable waters within the country, including the coastal areas, rivers, and Great Lakes.

Does Maritime Law Apply on Land?

Although admiralty law primarily applies to maritime activities, it can also have implications on land. For example, if a maritime injury or accident occurs on a boat and results in the injured party being transported to a hospital on land, the case may still fall under admiralty jurisdiction. Additionally, maritime law can also cover accidents that occur on docks, piers, and similar facilities.

How Are Disputes at Open Sea Resolved Under Maritime Law?

Disputes at open sea are resolved in special admiralty courts. These courts follow specific legal precedents, which are decisions made in previous similar cases that serve as a guide for resolving current disputes. Judges, rather than juries, typically preside over admiralty cases. They are well-versed in the intricacies of maritime law and provide impartial rulings based on the evidence presented. In other words, maritime court functions basically the same as any other court.

There is no specific maritime jail, but offenders who violate maritime laws or commit crimes at sea face criminal charges that lead to detention in traditional jails and prisons. Admiralty lawsuits can be filed to seek compensation for maritime injuries, accidents, property damage, or breach of maritime contracts. These lawsuits can encompass a wide range of issues, including personal injuries, cargo disputes, maritime liens, and collisions.

Who Writes and Enforces Maritime Law?

Maritime law is written and enacted by governmental bodies, international organizations, and legislative bodies at various levels. For example, in the United States, federal laws and regulations govern maritime activities. The US has an organization called the Federal Maritime Commission, for example. International bodies like the International Maritime Organization (IMO) also play a significant role in establishing and enforcing maritime regulations on a global scale.

Enforcement of maritime law primarily falls under the jurisdiction of governmental agencies, such as the United States Coast Guard and other relevant maritime authorities. These agencies are responsible for monitoring and enforcing compliance with maritime regulations, conducting investigations into accidents and incidents, and taking appropriate legal actions when violations occur.

What Is the Purpose of Maritime Law?

As Houston maritime injury lawyers, this is one of the most common maritime law questions we hear. Admiralty law serves several purposes, including:

  • Establishing Crew Member Rights: Maritime law protects the rights and interests of seafarers, ensuring fair treatment, proper compensation, and access to necessary resources.
  • Standardizing Contracts: It provides a framework for creating and enforcing contracts in the maritime industry, promoting fair and predictable business transactions.
  • Minimizing Disputes and Encouraging Resolutions: Admiralty law provides clear rules and procedures for resolving disputes, reducing the need for lengthy and costly litigation.
  • Making the Sea Safer: It establishes regulations and standards to ensure the safety of maritime activities, vessels, and crew members.
  • Safeguarding the Environment: Maritime law includes provisions to prevent pollution and protect marine ecosystems from potential harm caused by maritime activities.
  • Protecting Passengers: It establishes obligations and protections for passengers traveling by water, ensuring their safety, security, and fair treatment.
  • Encouraging Trade: By regulating maritime commerce, admiralty law promotes international trade and facilitates the movement of goods across borders.

What Does Maritime Law Cover?

Maritime law covers a wide range of legal issues, including but not limited to:

  • Jones Act: The Jones Act, discussed in more detail below, allows seamen and seawomen, including offshore oil rig workers, to pursue legal action and claim compensation for injuries caused by the negligence of their employers or coworkers.
  • Maintenance and Cure: This refers to the obligation of shipowners to provide medical care and living expenses to injured sea workers until they completely recover.

Death on the High Seas Act: This law allows surviving family members to seek compensation for the wrongful death of a loved one that occurs beyond three nautical miles from US shores. This protects, for example, people who might die on a commercial fishing expedition.

Types of Maritime Injuries in Houston

As anyone who works in the maritime industry or their family can tell you, the maritime industry can be one of the most dangerous industries to work in on a day-to-day basis.

Maritime injuries also involve some of the most complicated areas of the law. As a result, people injured offshore or on the docks often face legal uncertainty and complexity in the face of life-changing injuries.

The laws that govern maritime injury claims can include federal law, state law, and sometimes international law. For example, a vessel’s crew is subject to different laws than the longshoremen and stevedores that load and discharge that same vessel. Skilled maritime attorneys will navigate these types of complexities.

At Armstrong Lee & Baker LLP, we make sense of the legal mess and can help set injured maritime workers on a path toward recovery. Contact us today for your free consultation.

The Dangers of Working on an Oil Rig

Oil rig workers face dangerous job conditions—from rough seas to dangerous equipment—as they labor to provide a critical portion of America’s energy supply. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports data on fatalities in the oil and gas industry.

The most recent report, from 2017, counted 69 fatalities in the oil and gas industry that year. Texas leads the nation with 44 of those fatalities. In addition to these tragic outcomes, many other oil rig workers are injured in accidents each year.

The American Petroleum Institute developed new safety measures after tragic accidents made headlines.

API advises oil companies to keep workers protected by using safe drilling margins, real-time data transmission and monitoring, and regularly testing blowout preventer systems. Despite these safety advances, the oil industry still endangers many Houston area workers each year.

If you were injured on an oil rig, you deserve compensation. At Armstrong Lee & Baker LLP, our Houston maritime injury lawyer will fight for injured oil workers. We work to get you maximum compensation for the injuries and loss of income you have suffered.

To learn more about what we can do for you, contact us for a free consultation.

Here, we will provide an overview of maritime injury law and share steps you can take to potentially recover maximum compensation.

How Are Oil Workers Injured?

Oil workers working offshore face inherently dangerous rig conditions, including the following hazards:

  • Slip and falls;
  • Machinery malfunctions;
  • Explosions;
  • Chemical leaks;
  • Fires;
  • Falling tools; and
  • Rough seas.

It is an employer’s duty to provide a safe work environment for employees. When an oil company fails to keep the workplace safe, such hazards on oil rigs can cause a number of life-altering injuries, including the following:

  • Burns;
  • Lacerations;
  • Broken bones;
  • Strained muscles;
  • Nerve damage;
  • Crushed or severed limbs;
  • Head injuries; and
  • Spinal cord damage.

In the most tragic cases, an oil accident can kill the worker. In that case, our law firm helps grieving family members recover compensation for their loved one’s death.

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What Occupation Will Be Covered Under a Maritime Injury?

What laws apply will often depend on whether the injured person is a:

  • Steward
  • Captain
  • Fisherman
  • Cook
  • Bartender
  • Engineer
  • Longshoreman
  • Stevedore
  • Driller
  • Diver

Additionally, what law applies may depend on whether the accident occurs:

  • On navigable waters
  • While the vessel is docked
  • On a semi-submersible
  • On the docks
  • On an offshore rig

Once it is determined what law applies, injured maritime workers may be entitled to maintenance and cure benefits or benefits under state worker’s compensation laws.

In addition, a lawsuit can often be brought against vessel owners and operators or other responsible parties for the injured worker’s past and future medical bills, past and future lost wages, pain, and suffering, and other damages.

What Is the Jones Act?

The Jones Act is a federal law designed to protect injured maritime workers. It allows injured workers to bring a personal injury claim against their employers. This differs from land-based workers’ compensation law, which does not allow injured workers to sue their employers.

Thus, with a Jones Act claim, you have the potential to recover much more compensation than you could if you sustained a workplace injury on land.

Who Qualifies for the Jones Act?

To be covered by the Jones Act, you must be classified as a “seaman.” The Act defines a seaman as someone who spends at least 30 percent of their time in the service of a vessel on navigable waters.

Navigable waters refer to water that is used in interstate or foreign commerce, such as a river traversing two or more states or an ocean.

To be in navigation, the vessel must be afloat, in operation, and capable of moving on navigable waters. This means that workers on a boat in drydock are not covered by the Jones Act.

What Compensation Can I Recover?

The compensation you can recover when injured on an offshore oil rig depends on if you are eligible to file under the Jones Act. As we mentioned, this Act restricts suits to injured workers who are classified as seamen.

If you do not qualify to file a claim under the Jones Act, you can file a claim under general maritime law.

Filing Under the Jones Act

When you file a personal injury claim under the Jones Act, you can recover compensation for the following harm:

Medical bills

You can recover reimbursement for medical bills including doctor’s appointments, hospital stays, and physical therapy, among almost any other type of physician-recommended treatment.

Transportation costs to get to treatment may also be reimbursed. When you get medical treatment after your oil rig accident, save bills and medical reports. This evidence can help prove your claim.

Lost wages

You can recover past, present, and future lost wages. Lost wages include retirement accounts, health insurance, vacation days, and any other employment benefits.

If you are unable to work again, our offshore accident attorneys will calculate your work-life expectancy (that is, the remaining years you anticipated working) and how much you would have earned each year.

This requires complicated calculations but can result in a large settlement amount.

Pain and suffering

Compensation for pain and suffering can also be recovered. Pain and suffering include conditions such as mental anguish at your altered physical appearance, insomnia, physical pain, loss of enjoyment of life, humiliation, anxiety, and anger.

Maintenance and Cure

The compensation under the Jones Act is much more than the compensation allowed by general maritime law, which provides only “maintenance and cure.”

Maintenance and cure provide an injured worker with coverage for only meager daily living expenses and medical expenses. The Jones Act’s provisions for pain and suffering and lost wages can result in a much higher settlement.

What Should I Do After an Oil Rig Accident?

When you experience an oil rig accident, you may be in severe pain and facing extensive medical treatment. Meanwhile, you may wonder how to pay your bills if you are unable to work.

A lawsuit may be the last thing on your mind, but filing a Jones Act claim can help you recover the compensation you need to treat your injuries and provide for your family.

Take these steps after an oil rig accident to give yourself the best opportunity to recover compensation:

  • Report your accident to a supervisor;
  • Take photographs of the accident scene;
  • Write down the names and contact numbers of witnesses;
  • Seek immediate medical treatment; and
  • Keep medical records and bills.

Your company will ask you to fill out an accident report, and you will need to give a statement to the insurance company. Take your time—and consult an attorney if you want—before writing a report or giving an official statement.

Accident victims who have experienced a traumatic event may feel confused about what happened, and giving a statement before you think clearly could jeopardize your claim. 

On your accident report, you must indicate that the company was at fault in order to recover maximum compensation. If you have questions about whether the company was at fault, share your story with a maritime attorney and get their opinion on the situation.

Will My Case Settle or Go to Trial?

The Jones Act allows for a jury trial for personal injury claims, which can offer significant benefits to a plaintiff. We can build a case designed to appeal to the jury’s emotions, so they may award you higher compensation.

Of course, oil company attorneys know that juries may award higher compensation than judges, so they try to avoid jury trials. 

When you hire maritime injury attorneys who make it clear that they will not hesitate to bring a case to trial, the oil company is more likely to offer a large settlement.

Trials are expensive and bring negative press, so oil companies are highly motivated to settle. While we often negotiate significant settlements for our clients, you will have the final say in whether to accept a settlement offer.

When Should I Contact a Houston Maritime Injury Attorney?

You should contact an attorney soon after your oil rig accident because you have only a limited time to file a Jones Act claim. The Jones Act allows injured seamen to file a claim three years after the accident.

This means that if you wait more than three years to file a claim, your case could be thrown out. 

To put together the best case for maximum recovery, your Houston maritime injury lawyer will need plenty of time to investigate and gather information. Therefore, you should contact an offshore injury attorney well before the three-year time limit.

How Can an Offshore Injury Attorney Help?

After you suffer an oil rig accident, you should prioritize seeking medical treatment. As soon as you are able, you should contact a maritime law attorney.

An experienced attorney can walk you through the process of a Jones Act or maintenance and cure claim, taking stress off your shoulders.

An attorney can also help you get proper medical treatment, gather critical evidence to support your claim, and make sure that your company fulfills all its legal obligations.

Contact a Skilled Houston Maritime Injury Lawyer

At Armstrong Lee & Baker LLP, our experienced maritime law attorneys help injured workers seek the compensation they deserve. We provide personalized legal representation, viewing each client as a unique individual instead of a number.

We work tirelessly to help clients recover from their injuries and obtain the compensation they need to move forward with their lives.

We do not believe that income should determine access to justice, so we make our services affordable to everyone. We offer a free consultation, and if you hire us, you pay us nothing unless we win you money.

Then, you pay us a percentage of your settlement or trial verdict. Our maritime injury lawyers are not afraid to go to trial, and we let the insurance company know that.

Hiring experienced trial lawyers gives you the best chance of recovering a maximum settlement or jury award. To get started on your maritime injury case and find out what compensation you might receive, contact us today.

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Scott Armstrong

Scott Armstrong obtains remarkable results for his clients. He has successfully tried numerous cases to favorable verdicts and reached significant settlements on his client’s behalf. In the process, he has recovered millions for his clients.

Scott is known for his aggressive approach to every case. He has been recognized as a Rising Star by Super Lawyers, an accolade awarded to only 2.5% of attorneys under forty and practicing for less than ten years. Houstonia Magazine, H-Texas Magazine, and others have recognized Scott as a “top lawyer” in Houston.