Maritime law is the general term used to refer to laws that govern shipping and other activities on or in the seas. This includes matters relating to ship ownership, navigation, chartering, marine insurance, and maritime liens.
Generally speaking, these laws apply to all commerce and towage conducted by private entities on domestic and international waters. They are also known as admiralty laws.
The United States, as well as many other countries, has enacted legislation that regulates maritime activities, such as the Jones Act, which gives seamen or their personal representatives rights to seek compensation from their employers for injuries caused by their employment. This includes a right to jury trial and protections similar to those of railroad workers.
Another important maritime law, the Doctrine of Unseaworthiness, imposes a duty on ship owners to maintain their vessels properly. If they do not, they are liable for any injuries suffered by crew members.
Other maritime laws include the law of maintenance and cure, which requires employers to pay their employees’ expenses after a work-related injury. And the law of general average, which obligates ship owners and cargo owners to contribute a certain amount of money toward risk distribution, or monetary payments for damage sustained during shipment.
Most maritime claims are brought in either federal or state court. Under 28 USC SS 1333, a plaintiff may choose to file a case in state court, but federal law will still be applied. Depending on the remedy sought, however, parties are required to file some maritime actions in federal courts. These actions include petitions to partition the ownership of a ship, suits seeking to arrest ships to enforce maritime liens and mortgages, and lawsuits involving large accident claims.