All vessel owners or operators have a duty imposed by law to provide a safe and seaworthy vessel to any party involved with their boat. The owner or operator of a ship breaches its duty when something causes its ship to be unsafe or unseaworthy. Some examples of hazardous conditions which could constitute a breach of this duty include any of the following:
- Slippery floors
- Untrained or improperly trained workers
- Broken or malfunctioning tools or parts
- Failure to have, implement, or notify people of safety measures in place on the vessel
The Basic Requirements
Many people injured while at sea are entitled to benefits under the federal maritime law if they can show that they were owed a duty, someone breached that duty, and the breach caused injury. However, after making the above determinations, there are two additional requirements needed to bring an admiralty law personal injury claim against a vessel’s owner or operator.
Navigable Waters Requirement
First, the location of the where the injury occurred must have happened on or over navigable waters. Navigable water is any and every body of water that connects two or more states, or countries. For example, Lake Superior is a navigable body of water because the lake’s coastline joins Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ontario, Canada. On the other hand, the Great Salt Lake is not considered a navigable body of water because the lake wholly in Utah and does not join any other states or countries.
Another prerequisite of being considered navigable waters is that the water must be used or is capable of use as a highway for commerce. Being used as a highway for commerce means that ships can travel on the water with the purpose of trade and transport of goods.
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Maritime Activity Requirement
The second requirement needed to bring a maritime law personal injury claim is that the general character of the activity which caused a person’s injury must have a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity. To have a substantial relationship with traditional maritime activity, the action in question must involve a vessel and have a potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce.
It is generally not difficult to meet this second requirement. A “vessel” is any watercraft that is capable of use or is in use as a means of transportation on water. Any floating object that can move on the water meets this definition. Also, because almost every activity that takes place on a navigable body of water has the potential to influence maritime commerce—including by a private individual using a personal boat for a day trip—impacting maritime commerce is not a hard status to achieve.
If you meet the above requirements, you may have a viable admiralty law case. However, who is bringing action or what that case is about will determine which admiralty laws that a court will apply. It is important to hire a lawyer who is experienced and knowledgeable about the nuances of maritime law to litigate and try your case.
For example, seamen can bring maritime cases under the Jones Act, which you can read about on our blog post: Basics of Offshore Injury Cases Under the Jones Act.
On the other hand, a longshoreman or harbor worker can bring their maritime claim under the Longshore & Harbor Workers Compensation Act (LHWCA). Next week’s blog post will discuss the LHWCA in detail. In the meantime, you can read more about remedies available to longshoreman and harbor workers at our blog post: Two Powerful Remedies for Injured Longshoremen and Harbor Workers.
Finally, even passengers and guests on a boat like a cruise ship can bring a claim under maritime law because the owner or operator of the vessel is responsible for the health and safety of their passengers. A future blog post will discuss further details on the governing rules and remedies available for passengers.
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