Glossary - Maritime Law

A trusted advocate, Chris J. Roy Jr., founder of the Chris J. Roy, Jr. Law Firm, understands that the law and its terminology can be confusing at times. Claims that involve water vessels have a distinct set of rules; and although everyone’s circumstances are different, there are some common concepts. Chris offers these select definitions as an informal reference to potential clients who may find themselves facing a maritime matter, with the reminder that specific questions should be directed to a lawyer. For almost 30 years, Central Louisiana personal injury attorney Chris J. Roy, Jr., has been helping people in Alexandria, Pineville, Rapides Parish, Grant Parish, Avoyelles Parish, Allen Parish, Vernon Parish, and throughout Louisiana. Contact him today for a free initial consultation by calling 1-800-259-9850 or filling out a case evaluation form.

Admiralty law — This term used to refer only to disputes over contracts and torts (wrongful acts that cause injury) that arose from the operation of ships. Today, it is used interchangeably with the more preferable term “maritime law.”

Certificate of inspection — Mandated by federal law to ensure safety, all vessels must be regularly inspected by the Coast Guard. Those that pass are issued a certificate that must be prominently displayed on board.

Damages — Financial compensation for the harm suffered by the plaintiff because of the defendant’s actions. Common reimbursements are for lost wages, lost earning capacity, past and future medical expenses, and emotional distress.

Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) — Allows a decedent’s family to file for damages where the negligence of a vessel’s owner or the vessel’s unseaworthiness caused the death. Extends legal remedies beyond seamen to a vessel’s workers or passengers who are killed beyond territorial waters.

Jones Act — Federal law that gives injured seamen the right to sue their employer if the injury resulted from the employer’s negligence or from that of a fellow crewmember. The Act usually applies to anyone who works on navigable waters and contributes to the work of a vessel for at least 30 percent of their work time.

Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) — Applies to marine laborers who don’t perform the duties of seamen and who are injured or become diseased while working on the navigable waters of the United States or in adjoining areas.

Maintenance and cure — Benefits that an injured seaman is entitled to receive from an employer while recovering from an injury suffered while working. Maintenance covers room and board (rent, utilities, food expenses, etc.) while cure refers to the injured seaman’s reasonable and necessary medical expenses.

Maritime law — Area of law related to transportation by water, including the building, staffing, navigating, and operating of ships.

Navigable waters — Generally defined as waters that provide a channel for commerce or transportation. May be determined by whether a particular body of water is affected by the tides, connects with a continuous interstate waterway, has navigable capacity, and is actually navigable.

Negligence — The failure to act with reasonable care. To prove negligence under the Jones Act, an injured seaman has to show that the employer breached its duty to provide a reasonably safe place to work and that the breach was the cause of the injury. In standard negligence cases, the defendant’s negligence must be proven to be a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury, but the burden of proof under the Jones Act is much lower. The plaintiff has to show only that the employer’s negligence played some part in the plaintiff’s injuries.

Seaman — Any person who performs a significant amount of his or her work on a vessel. This status can be difficult to ascertain. For the Jones Act to apply, a seaman is any worker who contributes to the vessel’s overall purpose and function.

Seaworthy — The vessel, all of its parts, and anything used in connection with it must be in proper and safe working order. This includes having an adequate, properly trained, sufficiently supervised crew.

Statute of Limitations — The law imposes time limits as to how long after an injury a lawsuit can be filed. If the plaintiff fails to bring an action within that time, he or she is forever barred from doing so. Maritime claims arising from injury or death occurring on navigable waters generally must be filed within three years.

Territorial waters — The part of the sea or ocean adjacent to the coast of a state that is subject to the state’s sovereignty. There is no international agreement as to the acceptable width, though three nautical miles is most common, up to a maximum of 12. Territorial waters are distinguishable from the high seas on one hand and internal/inland waters on the other.

Vessel — Determination of whether a craft falls under this definition is crucial to many maritime cases. In the most general terms, a vessel is any craft whose purpose is to carry either goods or people on navigable waters. Courts have ruled that a structure is not a vessel if it is navigable only in order to put it into place. However, a structure is a vessel if cargo or passengers are navigated to it for the purpose of servicing it.

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