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Lawyer John Kevin Griffin
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Sailors and inland river crew (towboat barge and dredge crews)are especially vulnerable to injury and sickness owing to a variety of conditions, such as drastic changes in climate, constant peril, hard labor, and loneliness. A shipowner is liable for the maintenance and cure of sailors injured on ship and for injuries occurring on land. Courts consider accidents occurring during leave as the responsibility of the shipowner because sailors and crew need land visits in order to endure the long hours of water transportation.
Part of the Jones Act of 1920 (46 U.S.C.A. 688 et seq.) provides the right of sailors to recover from an employer for injuries resulting from the negligence of the employer, a master, or another crew member.
Death on High Seas Act (46 App. U.S.C.A. 761 et seq.) allows recovery by the beneficiaries of a sailor's estate when the sailor dies by negligence, default, or wrongful act on the high seas "beyond a marine league from the shore of any state [territory or dependency]." A marine league is one-twentieth of a degree of latitude, or three miles.
Accidents suffered by nonmaritime persons on docks, piers, wharfs, or bridges do not qualify for the application of maritime law. However, personal injuries suffered while individuals were aboard a ship or as a result of an air-to-water airplane crash are considered within the jurisdiction of admiralty law.
The Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (33 U.S.C.A. 901 et seq.) sets up a federal system to compensate injured maritime workers who do not sail. Through the Federal Office of Workers' Compensation Programs, employees such as stevedores (workers who load and unload ships) and ship service operators can receive compensation for injuries suffered in the course of their employment. U.S. sailors benefit from Title 46 of the U. S. Code, which sets a schedule for sailors' earnings and the conditions of their contracts.
Title 46 also lists the qualifications for sailor employment (7301 et seq.), the hours and conditions of the employment (8104 et seq.), and the living conditions that must be provided (11101 et seq.).
Federal laws also address the problems that beset ships and the life-or-death decisions made by carriers.
The Carriage of Goods by Sea Act (COGSA) (46 U.S.C.A. 1300 1315 ) regulates the rights, responsibilities, liabilities, and immunities regarding the relationship between shippers and carriers of goods.
The Salvage Act (46 U.S.C.A. 727 731 ) provides for compensation to persons who help save a ship or cargo from danger or help recover a ship or cargo from actual loss. To qualify for salvage remuneration, a person must not be acting in service of the ship or in performance of a contract, and the help given must have contributed at least in part to a wholly or partially successful salvage of the ship or goods.
The Abandoned Barge Act (48 USC 4701) defines an abandoned barge as “an owner who has moored, stranded, or left a barge unattended for longer than 45 days” (Abandoned Barge Act, 48 USC 4701). The act is relevant only to barges, specifically those over 100 Gross Tons. Frequently for derelict vessels an owner or operator can be found, however they often lack the financial means to correct the vessel's deficiencies.
Federal case law of the United States is rich in the areas of sailors' rights respecting the unseaworthiness of vessels, compensation for vessel suppliers and servicers, and the liabilities arising from collisions, towage, pilotage, and groundings.
The Maritime Lien Act (46 U.S.C.A. 31341 31343 ) gives a lien to any person who, upon the order of the shipowner, furnishes repairs, supplies, towage, use of dry dock or marine railway, or other necessaries to any vessel, without allegation or proof that credit was given.
The Ship Mortgage Act (46 U.S.C.A. 31301 31330 ) regulates the mortgages on ships registered in the United States, and also provides for enforcement of the maritime liens obtained through the Maritime Lien Act.
In case of collision or other damage to a vessel, an in rem proceeding is often used to recover damages. An in rem action is a lawsuit brought against an offending thing (in admiralty, usually the ship), whereas an in personam action is a suit brought against a person.
Rule C of the Supplemental Rules for Certain Admiralty and Maritime Claims (1985) provides necessary details for the seizure of an offending owner's vessel or property if a defendant vessel owner does not live in the state in which a suit is brought. The practical effect of Supplemental Rules B to E is to make it easier for a plaintiff to bring actions against out-of-state and foreign vessel owners and to provide for the attachment and Garnishment of the offending vessel.
An important consideration in any lawsuit is venue. Under Article III, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution, federal courts have the power to try "all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction" (art. III, sec. 2). However, state courts can also hear admiralty and maritime cases by virtue of the "saving-to-suitors" clause of 28U.S.C.A. 1333(1). This clause allows a plaintiff to sue in state court through an ordinary civil action when the court's Common Law is competent to give a remedy. In such actions, the state court must apply the federal law of admiralty to the admiralty claims. Nevertheless, if a plaintiff believes he or she will fare better before a local tribunal, the option is available.
When no applicable federal statute exists, the governing law of a maritime case will be the uniform laws as expounded by the U.S. Supreme Court and applicable to all torts and contracts, whether the case is tried in federal or state court. Maritime case law not the general common law govern contract disputes only if the subject matter of the contract pertained to water commerce. Maritime precedents will govern a tort claim only if the negligent or reckless actions involved commercial activity on navigable waters.
Charter in maritime law is an agreement among a shipowner, a crew (the charterer), and the owner of the goods to be transported. Charter parties come in three types: time, voyage, and demise. A time charter is the lease of a ship to a charterer for a specified period of time. A voyage charter is the lease of a ship for a specific number of voyages. A demise charter (so called because the shipowner effectively relinquishes ownership for a certain period, causing a "demise" in ownership interest) is usually a bareboat charter, which means that the charterer supplies the master and crew for the ship. Other demise charters provide that the shipowner's master and crew take charge of the vessel.
General average is the traditional form of maritime risk allocation whereby all participants in a charter agree to share any damages resulting from an unsuccessful voyage. Most parties to a charter obtain insurance to cover their portion of risk. However, because a charter involves multiple parties, and because insurance policies are subject to interpretation, insurance coverage does not always prevent disputes over damages.