Maritime law, often referred to as admiralty law, deals with the legal matters that arise in connection with ships and maritime commerce. It is a broad area that encompasses issues ranging from the development of legislation and regulations at both national and international levels to customs, excise, fishing, crew and employment matters, insurance claims, cargo damage, stowaways on vessels, pollution and wreck and salvage.
Generally, maritime law is governed by federal laws rather than state laws. However, this may change depending on the nature of a particular case.
United States jurisdiction: Article III Section 2 of the Constitution provides that federal courts have exclusive admiralty and maritime jurisdiction over the high seas. This means that most maritime claims can be brought in federal court, including actions to enforce a mortgage or lien on a vessel and petitions to limit a ship owner’s liability after a major accident to the value of the vessel.
Saving to Suitors clause: Typically, U.S. federal and state courts have concurrent jurisdiction over most maritime claims, although some maritime claims require parties to file in the federal courts, such as actions to partition ownership of a vessel, petitions to limit ship owners’ liability after a major accident, and suits to arrest ships to enforce maritime liens or mortgages.
SS 688: Jones Act
The Jones Act protects seamen from being cheated or exploited by their employers. It also gives seamen or their personal representatives the right to bring compensation claims for any injuries arising from their maritime employment. It covers all types of sailors, from masters and chief engineers to stevedores, longshoremen and others working in the marine industry.