Maritime laws are a distinct set of regulations that govern the navigable waters of the United States. Therefore, maritime matters are governed by federal law, not state personal injury law.
Even knowing when the maritime law applies sometimes can involve questions requiring the particular expertise of a maritime lawyer. The best personal injury attorney who devotes his or her practice to injuries occurring on land will be familiar with state law concepts that these cases involve. Maritime matters, on the other hand, are governed by federal law, and you need an attorney who understands these laws.
Maritime Attorney Richard Serpe
Richard Serpe has dedicated his legal career to protecting the rights of the injured. He knows how the insurers of commercial vessels will do everything they can to minimize their financial liability. And, they will do so even if it is at the expense of decent medical care for the injured.
Maritime Law Experience & Recognition
- Master of Laws in Maritime (LL.M.): After law school, Richard Serpe obtained a Master of Laws in Maritime & Admiralty (LL.M.) law from the Tulane University School of Law. Tulane’s School of Law is one of only a handful of universities in the U.S. offering maritime law degrees and is respsected internationally.
- Proctor in Admiralty: Richard Serpe has obtained the highest ranking (Proctor) from the Maritime Law Association of the United States.
- Best Lawyers in America®: Richard Serpe has been listed in Best Lawyers® for Admiralty & Maritime Law since 2005.
- Super Lawyers®: Listed as a top-rated Norfolk, Virginia attorney for his work in personal injury and maritime law.
- Video Testimonial: $3.5 Million Barge Accident Maritime Settlement *(Prior Case Results Cannot Guarantee a Similar Outcome)
General Maritime Laws
“Maritime law” is the term that generally is used to refer to the system that regulates the relations between private parties (such as a claim resulting from personal injuries). The maritime law can apply to injuries that occur in, on, or even near the navigable waters, if certain conditions are met.
Historically, the concepts of maritime law that relate to injuries that occur on navigable waters is rooted in the obligation of the owner of a vessel to take care of his crew during the entire voyage. The owner had to provide the crew with room and board, transportation, medical care, and wages. These duties still hold true today, and as a result you, as an injured seaman or other person entitled to these protections, have certain important rights for which you may need an experienced maritime lawyer to ensure you get the full benefit of the law.
Compensation Under the Jones Act
Many are surprised to learn that maritime employees are not covered by normal workers’ compensation insurance. Instead, seamen can file personal injury claims under the Jones Act. If maritime workers can prove that their employer did not provide a safe environment in which to work, they can recover the costs associated with their injury.
The Jones Act, also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, is an important federal maritime law. This law protects workers who are injured or become ill at sea by allowing them to recover compensation from their employer.
Am I a Jones Act Seaman?
To qualify for these protections, a maritime worker must fall under the Jones Act definition of a “seaman”. U.S. courts have generally interpreted “seamen” as anyone performing work related to a vessel’s purpose while operating in navigable waters. Navigable waters meaning waters capable of being used for commerce.
The employee must also spend a “significant” amount of their time on the vessel. This is evaluated on a case-by-case basis by taking their circumstances of employment into account. However, this typically means at least 30% of their time.
Maintenance and Cure Payments
Seamen injured while at sea are entitled to maintenance and cure from employers. This doctrine is one of the oldest in maritime law, and it has been traced back nearly 1000 years. It does not matter if the illness or injury is work-related as long as it occurs or manifests itself while the seaman is “in service to the vessel”. As well, the injury cannot be caused by the seaman’s own willful conduct.
Maintenance and Cure is paid until the seaman is either fit to return to work, or has reached a point where additional medical care will not help. Sometimes, a seaman might be fit enough to return to work and will lose his right to maintenance. But, if additional medical care could help, he would be entitled to additional cure.
The idea is that a healthy seaman lives and works on the ship. So, if he is injured and can no longer enjoy the benefits of that home, he is entitled to room and board (maintenance).
Maintenance should include the cost of maintaining the seaman’s home. This includes rent or mortgage, taxes, insurance, and food. Historically, employers paid amounts around 8 to 12 dollars per day. If the employer tries to pay a low amount like this, an experienced maritime lawyer can seek to show the court your ACTUAL cost of maintenance and seek a higher award.
In addition, he is also entitled to medical care to cure him of the injury (cure).
Occasionally, an employer will try to force a seaman to use private medical insurance to pay the bills. This is not a good idea because often the “cure” obligation is more broad than that provided by insurance. Cure should cover all related medical care, and can also include transportation expenses to see the doctors. A maritime lawyer will fight to ensure that you can get the medical treatment that you deserve.
Longshore Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act
The Longshore & Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA), 33 USC §901, et seq. was designed to provide compensation to offshore workers in the event of death, disability, or occupational disease. The act covers a wide range of maritime employees currently working in U.S waters. Active employees of a pier, dry dock, wharf, marine railway or other area used to build, load/unload, or repair vessels on American waters are eligible for compensation under this act.
Am I eligible for LHWCA benefits?
Anyone currently working on a navigable waterway in the United States who contributes to the loading, unloading, maintenance, or construction of a vessel is eligible. Employees working on or near piers or docks may also be eligible.
Eligible workers may include: hold men, winch operators, forklift operators, ship repair workers, ship breakers, pile drivers, warehouse workers, dock men, clerks, checkers, pier construction workers, wharf and sewer workers, and anyone employed at a facility used to assist with navigation or maritime commerce.
Excluded from coverage are any employees of the U.S. government that perform exclusively administrative tasks like clerical or secretarial duties. The act also excludes masters or members of the crew of any vessel 33 USC §902(3)(G).
Important Deadlines for Filing a LHWCA Claim
To qualify for coverage under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, the employee or their dependent must provide written notice to their employer and the U.S. Department of Labor. Workers have just 30 days after the date of their injury to file a claim. This is also true if you’ve lost a loved one and would like to file a claim for death benefits. For occupational diseases, the deadline may be extended for one year. You should contact a maritime lawyer immediately if you plan to file a LHWCA claim.
The sudden, unexpected loss of a family member is never easy. Learning that their death might have been avoidable makes grief even harder to bear. Families come to the Law Offices of Richard J. Serpe, PC for guidance, help, and answers during the darkest days of their lives. Unfortunately, in a maritime death case, no one can speak on the deceased’s behalf about how the accident happened. In some cases, there may not have been witnesses to the incident, either. Insurance companies know this and use it to their advantage. If someone you love has died in a maritime accident, it’s important to hire an attorney to protect your rights and investigate the circumstances that led to tragedy. Your departed spouse, parent or child deserves a voice that will fight for justice.
Examples of Maritime Negligence
- Lack of proper safety training
- Lack of proper occupational training – crew not properly trained for their job
- Poorly maintained, broken, or faulty equipment or machinery
- The employer fails to provide proper equipment for a crew member’s job/task
- Unseaworthy Vessel – when the vessel is not reasonably fit for its intended purpose
- Failure to hire a competent crew, negligent co-workers
- Collisions with other vessels
- Hoists, cranes, and derricks– struck by a boom or a moving load
- Winches – getting caught, being struck by a broken line or cable, tripping over lines and cables
- Moving parts and heavy machinery can cause injuries to hands, feet or limb if they are caught or crushed
- Traumatic brain and head injuries can occur from heavy falling items
- Failure to maintain electrical equipment, hazardous or flammable materials leading to fires and explosions
- Mechanical problems, missing safety equipment, lack of safety training can all result in falls overboard and drownings