Jones Act Info Center – What is Admiralty Law?
Admiralty law refers to a broad body of international and U.S. law that address matters that occur on the high seas and in inland waterways. The laws address such things as navigation, contracts, injuries, and even piracy. These laws are regulated by Congress by authority of Article III, § 2 of the U.S. Constitution. Since ships travel all over the world delivering goods to every port on the globe, it can get a little confusing as to what laws might apply. In general though, whatever flag the vessel is flying will determine the laws that apply.
Admiralty Laws In General
The purpose of such laws is to govern the responsibilities of ships’ owners and operators, salvage rights, the rights under contract and tort laws and penalties levied for breaking these laws, as well as protection for persons injured while traversing the navigable waters.
In general, U.S. these laws will govern a situation that arises along the navigable waters of the U.S., such as when two vessels collide, or an injury occurs, or when a contract is allegedly breached involving commerce or other business on the sea, or when a crime is committed against a U.S. citizen or vessel.
U.S. admiralty laws include:
- The Jones Act – protects qualified seamen on U.S. vessels and provides the right to sue an employer for negligence.
- Maintenance and Cure – provides for reasonable living expenses and medical costs while an injured maritime worker is recovering.
- Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act – protects maritime workers not covered under the Jones Act, providing medical benefits and a percentage of lost wages for injured workers.
- Death on the High Seas Act – provides surviving family members with compensation for the loss of their loved one at sea.
- Admiralty Jurisdiction Act – extends admiralty jurisdiction to maritime workers, not at sea.
- Carriage of Goods by Sea Act – governs the behavior of vessels carrying goods at sea.
International admiralty laws include:
- International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea(SOLAS)
- Standards for Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping (STCW)
- Maritime Pollution Regulations (MARPOL)
- International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea(Collision Regulations or COLREGS)
- International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue Convention(IAMSAR)
- United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea(UNCLOS)
- International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling
- International Convention relating to the Limitation of the Liability of Owners of Sea-Going Ships
Applying State or Federal Admiralty Laws
Issues can arise in determining whether state or federal laws apply. Any time an issue arises in navigable waters, the first thing that must be determined is whether federal or state laws will apply. This is known as jurisdiction. Jurisdiction is important because it affects your right to a jury trial and what laws will be applied to your case.
Federal laws will apply if:
- federal admiralty law directly addresses the issues in your case; and
- applying contradictory state laws would disrupt the uniformity of federal admiralty law
If no federal admiralty law applies, state law will govern the case.
If you sustain an injury while working on the high seas or in other navigable waters, regardless of location, you have rights. Talk to a knowledgeable admiralty attorney to make sure your rights are enforced, and you get the compensation you deserve.