Maritime Law

maritime law

Maritime law is an expansive body of law that covers shipping accidents, injured seamen and passengers, crime at sea, salvage of a ship, towage contracts, liens and mortgages on a boat and insurance issues. The vast amount of laws under maritime law means that it’s important to have an attorney with extensive experience in this area. This article merely skims the surface of a large and complex area of law and no doubt could be expanded to many more pages.

Generally speaking, state courts do not hear admiralty cases. Instead, these cases are heard in federal court. This is mainly because federal court has exclusive jurisdiction over any case in which a vessel itself is involved, such as an “in rem” proceeding or any other case in which the owner of a ship is being sued. Other types of cases involving maritime law that may be brought in federal court include claims for injuries, maritime products liability, collisions and recreational boating accidents.

There are, however, a number of types of cases that must be heard by a federal court even if there is no vessel or general marine commercial nexus. These cases include enforcement of a maritime lien, foreclosure on a preferred ship mortgage, limitations of the owner’s liability for accidents and other incidents at sea or out of navigable waters, and suits against the United States government.

In addition, there are certain kinds of admiralty cases that cannot be heard in state court at all – namely, claims based on the law of admiralty, maritime liens, mortgages and any proceeding in which a ship is being sued (called an “in rem” proceeding). These are all matters of national importance and must be ruled upon by a federal judge.

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