Maritime law is the legal system that governs judicial matters associated with injuries and accidents involving marine activities, shipping, navigation, recreational boating, towing and the conduct of businesses in and around the ocean. It also regulates private maritime quests, contracts, torts, criminal cases, death, insurance claims, cargo losses, damage and disputes relating to navigable waters.
Despite the name, admiralty law is not a single legal discipline – it is a vast body of public international laws dealing with navigational rights, mineral rights and jurisdiction over coastal waters. These laws are based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which has been adopted by 167 countries and the European Union.
In contrast, admiralty law also contains a number of domestic elements which are unique to the U.S., and can be confusing for non-lawyers to understand. The first of these is that admiralty law generally applies to all governmental or private entities that have a general maritime commercial nexus.
The second is that federal and state courts have concurrent jurisdiction over most maritime claims. However, there are some exceptions to this rule.
For example, if you are injured while working on a ship in Chinese waters, you will likely be entitled to compensation under U.S. maritime injury laws if you have an experienced maritime attorney on your side. This is because federal maritime law takes precedence over state laws in these circumstances – an important fact to be aware of!