MARITIME LAW

In this section you will find information pertaining to the field of Maritime Law. You will also find other information on some of the cases The Panagiotis Firm  has tried on their merits and succeeded in defending against the plaintiffs.

 Links to Maritime law resources:

International Maritime Organization. The United Nations' specialized agency responsible for improving maritime safety and preventing pollution from ships.

U.S. Coast Guard. Y2K Risk assessment and Mitigation

The Journal Of Maritime Law & Commerce. Includes cases and information from U.S. District courts as well as state courts pertaining to maritime law.

The new roles of a maritime attorney; using computer imaging to plead a case.

Global Maritime Law. The Amoco Cadiz oil spill disaster.

The Law Of Admiralty

The law of admiralty is a complex area of law which goes back to antiquity. It is a classic discipline and, it is said, the only true body of international law, a lingua franca through which people of different nations can come together to deal with the promise, profits and perils of voyages at sea. It also includes, however, some recent developments borne out of the economic and environmental challenges of the late twentieth century. In addition to traditional commercial topics, admiralty can be said to include the laws which regulate the ever increasing recreational boating activities such as cruising, fishing and racing. Once an elitist sport and lifestyle, yachting has become so widespread as to require government regulation in all its forms. This article is not meant to provide a comprehensive description of maritime law or specific legal advise on any given topic. Rather, it is a general overview of the subject which attempts to address both traditional commercial areas, such as carriage of goods, general average and maritime liens, as well as topics of interest to the yachtsman and recreational boater. We will have reached our goal if this brief discussion can trigger a spark of interest and introduce the reader to this intriguing and fascinating discipline.

Seamen's Personal Injuries

Congress has not adopted a workers compensation statute applicable to seamen like the one that exists for land-based workers. To compensate seamen and their families for a seaman's personal injuries or death, the Courts and Congress have developed a patchwork of remedies available to seamen who become sick or injured during their employment aboard vessels. Seamen can also obtain the protection of maritime law for illnesses developed after their employment for exposure to asbestos or hazardous chemicals.

A seaman is entitled to damages for the unseaworthiness of a vessel, maintenance and cure, and Jones Act damages. These remedies are only applicable to seamen and do not apply to land-based workers. Most attorneys are not experienced with these laws designed to protect seamen, in the event of negligence. The Panagiotis Firm. is fully qualified to help our clients in defending their rights against fraudulent claims, drug or alcohol usage at the time of the accident, and other areas of defense.

The Meaning of Admiralty Jurisdiction

Many of the peculiarities of admiralty actions have been removed by legislation and court decisions. What remains is not simply the legacy of a long history and tradition but a function of the specific needs of maritime commerce.

Aside from the actual form of the proceedings, actions in admiralty were, and still are, of two types: in personam and in rem. The in personam suit that is against a person or a judicial entity is typical of any other jurisdiction or branch of law. This would include direction action against insurance companies. The in rem proceeding, on the other hand, is virtually unknown outside of admiralty. The basis of the in rem proceeding is the maritime lien. Upon the occurrence of certain events or the non-fulfillment of obligations arising out of a contract or condition, maritime law gives the aggrieved party a right defined as a property interest in the vessel or other tangible thing involved in the amount of the accrued liability. The difference between the maritime lien and other types of liens is that it is generally independent of possession and is not extinguished by transfer to a bona fide purchaser without notice of its existence. Although a personal maritime liability may exist without a lien, the lien itself may vest even though the owner of the burdened vessel is not himself liable.

The way to enforce a maritime lien is the above mentioned procedure in rem which is an action directly against the vessel burdened by the lien. The vessel against which the lien is asserted is taken into the custody of the court. The owner of the vessel, who conducts the defense, will normally post a bond, thus securing the release of the vessel. If the lien is established on the merits, the vessel is sold at auction through an officer of the court, with the proceeds going to the lienor up to an amount sufficient to satisfy the lien. It is important to note that, while a suit in personam can be brought either in the federal courts (where jurisdiction is present due to diversity of citizenship) or at common law in state courts, a proceeding in rem can only be brought in the federal court as a court of admiralty.

DETERMINING ADMIRALTY JURISDICTION

A) Locality
For a matter to be maritime, the waters where it takes place must be of a certain type. High seas and harbors communicating with them are included but other bodies of water may or may not be. In general, the admiralty jurisdiction of the United States extends to all waters, with or without tides, salt or fresh, natural or artificial, which are navigable in interstate or foreign water commerce, without regard as to whether the particular body of water is entirely within a state, and whether or not the transaction in question is confined to a single state. It follows that small bodies of water wholly within a state and not navigable in interstate and foreign commerce do not provide admiralty jurisdiction. The Great Lakes and the Mississippi, on the other hand, are clearly within admiralty jurisdiction as is the Erie Canal, which is wholly within a state but navigable in interstate commerce. The Code of Federal Regulations also lists waterways where federal jurisdiction applies.

B) Vessel Status

Generally, a vessel is defined by the federal statutes as a watercraft or other contrivance capable of being used as a means of transportation over water. Courts have differed, however, in the interpretation of what constitutes a vessel. While a cargo ship is clearly a vessel, floating docks and platforms, barges and other equipment used to repair bridges, docks and piers present more of a jurisdictional problem. In order to determine whether or not a given item is a vessel, several factors are considered, particularly the function and purpose for which it was built. A court may ask whether the object can be defined by law as a vessel, whether it can move across the water, whether it is subject to the perils of the sea or whether it is designed to be permanently fixed in position.

C) Activity or type of lawsuit
The empowerment of the courts of the United States to draw upon and administer maritime law derives from the language of the Constitution which extends the judicial power of the United States to "all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction". Section 9 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 provides that:

"............the district courts.......shall also have exclusive original cognizance of all civil causes of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction.........saving to suitors, in all cases, the right to a common law remedy, where the common law is competent to give it:......"

The jurisdictional question, however, has become a little more complicated than Congress originally intended it to be. As of 1966, in order to invoke the constitutional admiralty jurisdiction, a "complaint" must be filed which is formally indistinguishable from the ordinary civil complaint. When admiralty jurisdiction is invoked, however, the consolidated rules still make provision for differential treatment and handling of certain matters previously existing only in admiralty.

An accurate list of the type of activities which fall within the admiralty jurisdiction is impossible to make but the following cases would most likely be deemed in admiralty:

Suits for contracts for the carriage of goods and passengers; for repairs and supplies furnished to vessels as well as services such as towage, pilotage and wharfage; for the chartering of ships; for the services of seamen; for recovery of indemnity or premiums on marine or yacht insurance policies; Suits in tort for collision damage, or for any physical damage to ships or cargoes on navigable waters; for any damage caused by a vessel; for personal injuries to seamen and passengers while aboard a vessel on navigable waters. (The statutes dealing with personal injury are the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, 33, 41 Stat 1007, 46 U.S.C.A., popularly known as the Jones Act and the Death on the High Seas Act, 1920, 41 Stat 537, 46 U.S.C.A.); Suits for wrongful death. When these occur outside territorial waters, the federal Death on the High Seas Act applies but within Territorial Waters. The Jones Act with that general maritime law applies. Under the Jones Act a seaman may sue either at law or in admiralty and he usually chooses to sue at law in order to have a jury; Suits for general average, salvage and maintenance and cure; Petitions for limitation of ship owners' liability; Proceedings to foreclose preferred ship-mortgages; Suits to recover vessels wrongfully taken or withheld.

The following categories of actions usually do not fall within the admiralty jurisdiction:

navigation; suit for the sale and building of vessels; for the payment of a fee for procuring a charter; for services to a vessel out of navigation. Suit on breach of an agreement to procure insurance on a cargo.


Cases

Carlos Ortis vs. Delmar Offshore Services, Inc.

                Seaman's unseaworthiness claim.

                low back injury with surgery

                United States District Court- Lafayette.

                Demand:  $500,000.00

                Judgment: Plaintiff take nothing.

Chester Roberts vs. Omega Service industries, Inc.

                Third party liability claim under general maritime law.

                Low back injury

                32nd Judicial District Court, Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana

                Judgment: Plaintiff take nothing.

 

Kevin Guilbeaux vs. Wilrig (U.S.A) Inc., et al

 

            Jones Act personal injury claim

            Foot injury with surgery

            United States District Court- Lafayette

            Demand: $550,000.00

           Judgment: $34,186.00 Judge awarded $227,000.00 with 85% contributory

                                              negligence assessed on plaintiff.

 

Clarence Sutton vs. Murphy Exploration & Producing Company

 

            Jones Act personal injury claim.

            Low back injury with surgery

            United States District Court- Lafayette

            Judgment: Summary judgment rendered against plaintiff on seaman status

For more information about Maritime Law please e-mail us at:

info@panalaw.com