Maritime law, often referred to as admiralty law, grants rights to the numerous maritime workers across the country. This body of law can apply to workers or their employers if they are working in the maritime industry. For the most part, maritime laws will govern what happens in the event that an accident happens on navigable waters or the high seas.
These laws are some of the oldest in the country and this can make them difficult to interpret, as some of them have changed a lot over the years. This means cases involving maritime accidents will require a skilled and experienced maritime law attorney, one who is well-versed in the current laws and their application.
Historically, maritime law was only applicable in cases where an accident occurred on the high seas. The “high seas” is a term that is used to refer to any body of water that is beyond the territorial waters of a specific country or state. In modern times, maritime laws also apply all over the “navigable waters” in the U.S. This can get confusing, as the definition of navigable waters is somewhat difficult to pin down and usually, attorneys will need to use previous cases and precedence to strengthen their case.
As it stands today, navigable waters are defined as any body of water that acts as a continued highway over which commerce, such as foreign and domestic cargo transportation, is carried out. If a body of water allows for trade between states or foreign countries, it is classed as navigable waters and thus is governed by maritime law. To further complicate matters, there are “greater navigable waters”, which are certain bodies of water that are governed by maritime laws even though they do not involve a direct connection between two states or countries.
This means that land-locked bodies of waters are usually governed by the state laws where the water is located rather than maritime law.
What are Maritime Laws in Texas?
Workers who carry out their jobs offshore on the high seas face some of the most dangerous conditions of any profession. Every single day there are countless hazards that can lead to serious injuries, even death, such as oil rig fires, erratic weather conditions, gas leaks, explosions, and falling objects.
Due to this danger, maritime laws were put in place to protect workers and their families financially in the event that they are injured. Under maritime law, injured workers have easy access to compensation to cover their medical bills and cost of living. These benefits can be obtained without proof of negligence, making them a good lifeline when people are injured though accidents that were nobody’s fault.
However, maritime law is complicated and most workers take employment without fully understanding what their rights are. This means that when they are injured, they are unsure of what they are entitled to, and more likely to accept compensation that does not adequately cover the costs of their injuries. Employers may take advantage of this lack of knowledge, convincing their injured employees to accept compensation, forgoing the right to pursue a better offer later on.
This is why it is so important to have a skilled and experienced injury attorney on call if you are an offshore worker. As soon as you are injured, they should be your first port of call. Once you have told them what happened, they can quickly assess the situation and tell you what your rights are and what to do next. They can also take over liaising with your employer and any other parties, ensuring you are not misled.
Here at Abraham Watkins, our team of attorneys has handled countless maritime cases on behalf of clients across Texas. We understand the urgency needed when you have been injured at work, and we are ready to help.
Once you call one of our team, we can discuss your case and inform you whether you are better off accepting the benefits on offer, or pursuing a more serious personal injury case against your employer for their negligence.
Call us today to speak with a maritime lawyer from our law firm at 713-535-9319.
Where are Maritime Cases Heard in Texas?
The maritime legislation in place in Texas is provided by Article III Section 2 of the United States Constitution. This means that personal injury cases and property damage cases that occur on navigable waters, are typically seen by federal courts.
Even though maritime cases are governed by federal law, when you are injured offshore or on the high seas, as an employee, you may have the right to bring your case to state court in Texas. As an injured maritime worker, state courts will see your claim under the Jones Act and oil rig workers may also be entitled to bring federal cases in state court.
These laws are extremely complex and confusing, and understanding where your case stands in terms of it being in federal or state court is difficult. This is one of the reasons we recommend involving an attorney who has a lot of experience dealing with maritime laws.
The cross-over between state and federal maritime law will be clearer to an attorney who handles cases on a regular basis.
Important Maritime Laws that apply in Texas
Maritime injury cases are governed by a number of different statutory laws that govern a person’s right to compensation and medical expenses following an injury offshore.
Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act
The Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act (LHWCA) provides rights to a variety of workers in traditional maritime occupations to claim compensation after an accident.
Injured employees covered by the LHWCA include:
- Harbor construction workers
- Longshore workers
- Dock workers
- Ship repairers
For an employee to raise a claim under this act, and seek compensation, they must be able to prove that their injury occurred on navigable waters or on a dock, pier or other structure that is adjacent to navigable waters.
Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act
This act is an extension of the LHWCA. If a worker is injured on the Outer Continental Shelf of the United States, this act gives them the right to make a claim. Under this act, workers must have been exploring, or producing natural resources on the Outer Continental Shelf.
There are a few stipulations here. If you are employed by any government, including the U.S government, you are not eligible to make a claim under this act.
Death on the High Seas Act
The Death on the High Seas act applies to any accident that has resulted in a maritime worker losing their life on the high seas. Family members of any worker who has been killed on the high seas are entitled to bring a lawsuit to pursue financial compensation on behalf of the deceased.
Under this act, family members will only be able to seek compensation for pecuniary losses, like financial support, and will be unable to recover medical expenses and funeral costs.
The Death on the High Seas Act is bound by a three year statute of limitations, meaning you only have 3 years from the date of the death to bring a suit.
The Jones Act, is one of the older maritime law acts, and was established back in 1920. This act gives rights to all seamen to claim against their employers if they were injured offshore due to negligence.
If the worker’s employer, the ship owner, the captain or crew, was at fault to any degree, workers have the right to pursue compensation. This is known as the “featherweight” burden of proof, meaning a jury only needs to be convinced the employer’s negligence played a role, no matter how small, in causing the plaintiff’s injury.
Some incidents of negligence covered under this act include:
- Failure to maintain and provide safe equipment for seamen
- Knowing of impending extreme weather conditions and not taking steps to avoid it
- Giving negligent orders and instructions to workers
- Failing to provide adequate medical treatment to injured employees
As an injured seaman, you are entitled to raise a personal injury claim against an employer who caused you harm through their negligence. You are also fully entitled to a jury trial which is not typically allowed under maritime law without a statute expressly permitting the right.
If you are considering bringing a claim under the Jones Act, your best route is to involve a knowledgeable maritime lawyer who can assist you with your claim. This is because claims under the Jones Act are notoriously complex and will require strong evidence and a compelling case to be put forward.
Limitation of Liability Act
This act allows for the owners of seafaring vessels to limit their liability if a claim is brought against them following an accident on their vessel. If you have been injured on any type of vessel, the owner of the vessel may use this act to attempt to reduce your recovery.
To utilize this act, the owner of the vessel must be able to show, with evidence, that they had no knowledge of the hazard or problem that resulted in the victims’ injury. In these cases, the decision will fall to a Judge, and a Judge alone, as governed by admiralty law.
To combat this defensive tactic, you should involve your attorney as soon as possible so they can help you put together a compelling case that the vessel owner had prior knowledge of the hazard that injured you.
Seamans Right to Maintenance and Cure
The right to maintenance and cure for seamen is similar to workers compensation for onshore workers. If you have been injured while at work, you are entitled to these benefits.Cure includes all of the medical costs, and bills you have to pay following the injury and maintenance should cover you for your daily cost of living whilst you are out of work.
Workers can claim these benefits without the need to prove the employer was negligent. They are no-fault and are much easier to obtain than personal injury damages, although they will usually be substantially less. These benefits must be paid until a physician or doctor states that the injured worker has reached maximum medical improvement.
Doctrine of Unseaworthiness
The vessel owner and operator owe seamen and absolute duty to provide a “seaworthy” vessel, which means the vessel and its appurtenances must be suitable for their intended use. Under this doctrine the vessel must be in safe working order and the crew must be adequate.
Examples of unseaworthy conditions include:
- worn out equipment
- lack of proper equipment
- lack of proper warnings
- lack of properly trained crew
- excessive working hours
- insufficient crew to perform the task at hand.
If a worker is injured as a result of unseaworthy conditions then a maritime worker is entitled to recover loss of income, medical expenses, pain and suffering and other maritime damages.
Contact a Maritime Lawyer at Abraham Watkins Today!
Both maritime law and admiralty law were designed to provide protection and rights to offshore workers. Accidents offshore and on the high seas can be extremely serious and traumatic and may require long periods of time off work.
Unfortunately, most maritime workers do not understand their rights under the many maritime acts and laws. This means they are much more likely to accept offers that do not adequately cover their injuries and damages. Some workers do not even know they have the right to guaranteed maintenance and cure when they have been injured or fall ill when in the service of a vessel.
If you have suffered injuries from an accident that occurred offshore, your best option is to speak to an experienced maritime injury attorney as soon as physically possible. Here at Abraham Watkins, we understand the stress and anxiety that you may be facing and we are on hand to fight for your fair treatment. Our attorneys have won personal injury cases for numerous offshore workers and we can also ensure that you receive adequate maintenance and cure that covers your damages.
Once you have got in touch with our team, we will assign you your own dedicated maritime lawyer, one who can help you in both federal court and state court, one that knows Texas law like the back of their hand.Call us today to discuss your case and learn more about our maritime law services at 713-535-9319.
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If you have additional questions about your accident or injuries – or if you wish to speak to one of our attorneys about your legal options – please complete our online contact form or call our Houston law office at 888-261-8831 or 713-244-5486.
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