Houston Maritime Attorneys
We Serve Injured Maritime Workers Nationwide. Offices in Texas & Louisiana.
Just like any other industry, seamen are at risk for suffering work-related injuries any time they are on the clock. The courts recognize this and are continually working to protect injured seamen through general maritime law. Maritime law gives workers who have been injured offshore or in the maritime industry the chance to claim necessary compensation for any suffering of medical complications.
History of Admiralty & Maritime Law
Maritime law—also referred to as admiralty law—is nearly as old as the shipping industry itself and governs most accidents that occur on navigable waters. The law’s roots can be traced back to the unwritten customs of nautical behavior of the Egyptians and Greeks. However, the earliest formal codes were established around 900 BC on the Greek island of Rhodes. The original maritime laws and codes stemmed from the ancient customs and rules of shipping. For example, the Doctrine of General Average—the concept that all sea cargo stakeholders (owner, shipper, etc.) evenly share any damage or losses that may occur as a result of a voluntary sacrifice of part of the vessel or cargo to save the whole—can be traced back to the early shipping customs of the Rhodians.
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 U.S. judicial system is based on the British system, amended admiralty laws were gradually incorporated into our legal system soon after the constitution was ratified.
Though still based on industry standards and customs, maritime law is largely found in the U.S. Constitution, treatises and international conventions, federal statutes, the general maritime law, and other judicial decisions, administrative regulations, and customs.
When Does Maritime Law Apply?
Perhaps most obviously, maritime law applies to events that occur on high seas—in other words, accidents that happen beyond the territorial waters of any country. Furthermore, maritime law applies to the territorial sea, which are waters within 12 miles of the shore. However, the law’s applicability becomes less clear further inland. Early in the United States’ history, maritime law did not apply to incidents that occurred within the “body of the country” and therefore excluded incidents involving the Great Lakes and nontidal inland waterways. However, throughout the 19th century, this exclusion eroded away.
Maritime law is now applied to “navigable waters.” A waterway is deemed navigable if by itself, or by uniting with other waters, it can serve as a “continued highway over which commerce is or may be carried on with other States or foreign countries.” Consequently, if a body of water is completely landlocked within a single state, then it is not navigable for purposes of admiralty jurisdiction. However, a body of water doesn’t need to flow between states to be deemed navigable. A body of water may be deemed navigable if it is a link in a chain of bodies of water that can be used to service interstate commerce. Ultimately, the test is that the commerce of one state must be capable of being carried into another state or a foreign country. Once this test has been passed, it is likely that maritime law will be applicable, even if it is a recreational vessel.
Incidents That Require Texas Maritime Accident Attorneys
Houston maritime injury attorneys exist to help injured seamen or dock workers get the compensation they need to recover from serious injuries and afford long-term medical costs that occurred offshore. That includes any accidents that occur on “navigable waters” (rivers and ocean) and in harbors or docks.
One notable aspect of maritime accidents is that they’re often devastating. Offshore oil rig explosions cause significant damages, vessel collisions are frequently catastrophic, and oil platforms can unfairly change the lives of workers. Maritime lawyers fight to help workers recover the compensation they deserve, whether they’re suffering after a major explosion or have injuries caused by unsafe working conditions.
Our maritime attorneys represented more crew members of the Deepwater Horizon and the El Faro than any other law firm. We not only understand maritime law but the practices and culture of maritime employers. Speak with us to discuss your case so we can go over your legal and financial options.
The Basics of Maritime Law
Maritime law is derived from many sources: federal statutes and general maritime law being two of the most prominent. These sources provide some of the maritime doctrines that are commonly used in cases involving vessels and their passengers and crew.
Maritime law sets forth many of the basic legal tenets associated with the sea and seamen, including:
- Seaman’s Right to Maintenance and Cure: Maintenance and cure are benefits that an injured seaman receives from an employer during the course of recovery. Maintenance includes such expenses as the seaman’s rent or mortgage, utilities, property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, and food. Cure is similar to workers’ compensation benefits for land-based employees; it covers costs related to medical treatment for the work-related injury. A seaman is someone who is a captain or crew member aboard a vessel in navigation. Also similar to worker’s compensation, Maintenance and cure does not require that the seaman prove any fault for their injury—the employer is required to pay.
- The Jones Act: The Jones Act is a federal law that gives seamen a statutory right to sue their employer for personal injury damages. However, a seaman must spend at least 30% of their time working on a vessel to qualify for the Jones Act. Not only does the Jones Act provide the seaman a statutory right to sue their employer, it also eases the burden of proof needed to prove causation between the employer’s negligence and the seaman’s injury; under the Jones Act, the employer’s negligence only needs to play a part in the seaman’s injury rather than being a proximate cause. The Jones Act also incorporates aspects of the Federal Employment Liability Act. In particular, claims filed in state court under the Jones Act are not removable to federal court.
- The Death on High Seas Act: When the death of an individual is caused by a wrongful act or neglect occurring on the high seas, the Death on High Seas Act guarantees that a personal representative of the decedent can bring a claim.
- The Saving to Suitors Clause: Federal law establishes exclusive jurisdiction for admiralty and maritime cases in the federal district courts absent any language indicating the contrary within a statutorily created right, such as the Jones Act. However, the “saving to suitors” clause reserves any non-admiralty remedies that may be available to an individual. An example of an admiralty remedy is a suit in which the claim is brought against the ship.
- Longshore and Harbor Worker’s Compensation Act: Federal law created certain statutory rights for employees who are not necessarily “seamen” but nonetheless work on harbors or vessels that are under repair or being built. This law covers longshore workers, ship-repairers, shipbuilders or ship-breakers, and harbor construction workers. Moreover, the injuries must occur on navigable waters or an adjoining area, such as a dock. This law provides for the payment of compensation and medical care for an individual injured while on the job or survivor benefits. The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act extends the Longshore and Harbor Worker’s Compensation Act to employees engaged in offshore drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf.
Jurisdiction in Maritime Law Cases
In the U.S., 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 case, the court is required to apply admiralty or maritime law rather than its state law.
How Does Maritime Law Provide for Hurt Workers?
Without maritime law, injured seamen would be left on their own to counteract the suffering they sustained while working. Anytime a ship employee becomes injured or sick, the vessel owner is required to reimburse their losses. Maritime law refers to this reimbursement as maintenance and cure, meaning that until the seaman fully recovers, the employer must provide for their affliction. The court views this obligation as an unquestionable duty that the shipowner owes any seaman aboard their vessel. Seamen are also eligible to recover full wages for the length of the voyage during which they sustained injuries or illness. An employment contract may dictate the amount of unearned wages a seaman can receive.
PROVISIONS FOR MAINTENANCE & CURE
Maintenance and cure refer to the benefits a seaman is entitled to until he/she recovers and is fit for duty. However, there is a maximum medical improvement (MMI) limit that can control the amount of compensation received.
Because many ship owners are loathe to pay the highest amount possible, they either follow old rates (from $15 to $35 a day) or regulate cure benefits by hand-picking covered medical treatments. The U.S. Supreme Court states the duty to provide maintenance and cure must be broad and inclusive. In the case of compensation, the seaman is almost always favored when skepticism is involved.
Catastrophic Maritime Injuries
In some instances, an offshore accident can cause injuries that are so serious that they change a person’s life permanently. These types of injuries are so notorious that the medical and legal community has a word for them: catastrophic injuries. When a person has this type of offshore injury, their injuries will likely impact the rest of their life. In some instances, certain injuries mean that a person won’t be able to earn a living with physical work as they once didn’t. In other cases, it means that every aspect of a person’s life is impacted by the severity of their injuries.
Surgery is required to treat a lost limb or to amputate a limb. Once you have had surgery, you may still need extensive physical and emotional therapy to help you adjust to the new reality of missing a limb or using a prosthetic limb. These payment costs can be difficult for an injured maritime worker to handle, especially while supporting a family. Our firm often has to help our clients rebuild their financial security in the wake of costly medical treatments. This is why it is vital to contact a maritime amputation injury attorney as soon as possible.
Recovering Compensation for Amputation Injuries
If you suffered severe injuries in a maritime accident that required amputation, you have the right to receive compensation. Limb loss is a financially costly loss; patients face treatment costs for the rest of their lives. Under maritime law, you have several avenues for recovering damages, especially if negligence is involved. Since maritime law is different from laws on land, it is vital to contact an experienced maritime amputation injury attorney as soon as possible to help you receive the best possible results for your case.
Understanding Maritime Injuries
In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control released a report examining fatal maritime injuries from 2003-2010. It found that those working in the offshore oil and gas industry are seven times more likely to die than workers in other industries. However, the oil and gas industry isn’t the only common sector for maritime injuries. Anytime people are on a vessel or working in the maritime industry, dangerous conditions are present, and vessel owners and employers must take appropriate measures to protect them.
Those in charge of a vessel are responsible for maritime injuries. Vessel owners and employers must ensure they provide safety training for workers and ensure that their ships and rigs are seaworthy. This is true even in the face of natural disasters and heavy weather like hurricanes and tropical storms. Rough seas are no excuse for a vessel capsizing or sinking, if the owner knew of the storm and failed to evacuate crew or take measures to evade it.
Vessel owners and employers are responsible for making sure the following exist:
- Safety training
- Safety equipment
- Vessel maintenance
- Safe work practices
Offshore workers who sustain maritime injuries have a chance for recovery through the Jones Act. Also known as The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, this protects U.S. citizens working offshore. It enables injured workers to hold vessel owners accountable for failing to protect their safety. Essentially, the Jones Act provides similar protections to offshore workers that their onshore counterparts enjoy. It requires employers and vessel owners to be responsible and holds them accountable for negligence.