Maritime Lawsuit

Accidents at sea and in ports can be particularly dangerous, often resulting in serious injuries and even fatalities. If you have been harmed in a negligent or workplace accident on a vessel or in a port, you may need to file a maritime lawsuit to recover damages.

What is a Maritime Lawsuit?

A maritime lawsuit is a civil legal action designed to help victims of maritime accidents recover damages. Accidents often result from negligence, which means an individual, several people, or a company may be liable. They can be held to account with a lawsuit and forced to pay damages for medical expenses, lost wages, and more.

Do I Need to File a Maritime Lawsuit?

Knowing when it is appropriate to file a lawsuit can be difficult for anyone who is not a lawyer. The best way to determine if you should file or if you have a strong case is to talk to a lawyer specializing in maritime laws and lawsuits.

All situations are different and unique, but there are two major types of cases in which a maritime lawsuit may be the appropriate step:

  • Maritime workplace accidents. Maritime workers do not receive workers’ compensation benefits as most employees in other industries do. They are protected by federal laws, known as the Jones Act, the doctrine of unseaworthiness, and maintenance and cure. These give them the right to compensation for an injury and the right to sue an employer for negligence after an accident.
  • Non-work accidents. Passengers or other people on vessels or in ports and shipyards can file a maritime lawsuit like any other negligence lawsuit. If someone’s negligence caused an accident on board a ship or in another maritime setting, they could file the suit to prove liability and to recover damages. There may be some restrictions for passenger lawsuits based on the small print on tickets.

How Will My Lawyer Prove Negligence?

Your lawyer will investigate the incident and talk to experts to determine who is negligent in your injury and plot a strategy for proving it. For passengers and other non-workplace incidents, your lawyer must prove:

  1. That the negligent party had a duty of care. For instance, the owner of a ship has a duty to keep it maintained and safely functioning. The crew has a duty to make sound judgments to keep passengers safe.
  2. That they breached the duty of care. A ship operator or owner may breach the duty of care by allowing it to carry passengers without adequate safety equipment.
  3. That the breach caused your injuries. A navigator who fails to use weather forecasting equipment correctly and leads the ship into a storm and a resulting collision could be negligent for your resulting injuries.
  4. That the injuries led to damages. You must show that the injuries you suffered have cost you significant damages, such as medical bills or lost income.

If you are a maritime worker suing an employer under the Jones Act, you must generally prove the same facts about the incident. However, the Jones Act allows for a lower burden of proof. You only need to show that the negligence contributed to your injuries and damages, not that it was a main or direct cause.

What is My Maritime Lawsuit Worth?

The purpose of filing a maritime lawsuit is to recover damages, the costs of your injury. There are three types of damages you may be able to recover:

  • Economic damages. These are the monetary costs resulting from the incident and injuries. They may include current and future expected medical bills, long-term care costs, travel expenses for treatments, lost wages, lost future earnings, and for wrongful death cases, funeral expenses, and income for dependents.
  • Non-economic damages. You may also be able to recover compensation for non-monetary costs, the harm you cannot put a price on. For instance, if you lost a loved one, loss of companionship and emotional distress are non-economic damages. For your own injuries, you may be able to argue for emotional and physical pain and suffering or disfigurement and permanent disabilities.
  • Punitive damages. In some cases, you can recover punitive damages intended to punish the negligent party and deter others from doing something similar. These damages are usually restricted to gross negligence or intentional harm.

When Should I File a Maritime Lawsuit?

For passengers with personal injury lawsuits, maritime law allows for a statute of limitations of three years from the incident.[1] Some ships, particularly cruise ships, require passengers to agree to a notice-requirement clause. This requires you to file a claim for damages within a certain period of time, usually 12 months. You may not have as long to file as you realize, so talk to a lawyer right away.

Maritime workers suing for damages have a time limit of three years, according to the Jones Act. There may be room for exceptions in cases where the worker could not have discovered the cause of an injury any earlier.

How to Proceed with a Maritime Lawsuit

The steps in a maritime lawsuit follow the same general guidelines as any civil suit. Your lawyer will know what to do, what steps to take, and how to get through the process as quickly as possible, and with the best outcome.

  1. Filing a claim or complaint.
    The first step in starting a lawsuit is to file a complaint notifying the defendants of your allegations. The Jones Act requires that you begin with the appropriate claim for maritime work accidents.
  2. Collecting evidence and discovery.
    The defendants’ lawyers will now begin investigating the incident while your lawyer continues to investigate and collect evidence to prove negligence. Each side may also share information and hold depositions.
  3. Negotiating for a settlement.
    Many defendants are willing to negotiate rather than go to trial. Jury awards are usually much higher than settlements. Your lawyer will negotiate on your behalf for a fair amount.
  4. Going to trial.
    If both sides disagree on a settlement, the plaintiff has the option to continue the lawsuit in court. This means your lawyer will present evidence and witnesses and argue in front of a jury. The jury decides if the defendants are negligent, and if so, determines the damages amount.

If you think you have grounds for a maritime lawsuit, contact an experienced lawyer. They can evaluate your case, decide if filing makes sense, and give you a good idea of what to expect.

  1. Cornell Law School. Legal Information Institute. (n.d.). 46 U.S. Code § 30106.Time Limit on Bringing Maritime Action for Personal Injury or Death.
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