Maritime Law

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aritime Law, also called Admiralty Law, governs all maritime activities and offenses. This practice area includes matters involved in marine transportation, navigation, commerce, shipping, salvaging, and the overall rules of marine vessel operation. Due to the complexity of maritime law, it is important to hire a skilled attorney experienced with this practice area. At Goldfinch Winslow, LLC we can help you determine the route to take that fits your individual needs.

While each legal jurisdiction typically creates its own individual legislation overseeing maritime matters, admiralty law can be characterized by a significant amount of international law developed over the years – as well as many multilateral treaties.


The majority of maritime cases can be settled within state or federal courts under the saving to suitors clause. The clause provides common law remedy to claimants with a right to jury trial in maritime issues. State courts have concurrent jurisdiction in all admiralty cases except for lawsuits against an item of property (en rem). The saving to suitors clause authorizes state courts to apply state laws in admiralty cases; however, the state courts may not completely alter general admiralty federal law.

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There are maritime cases that can only be brought in federal court. They are:

  • Limitation of Shipowner's Liability
  • Salvage Cases
  • Petitory Actions (Suits to try title to property independent of questions concerning possession)
  • Possessory Actions (Action brought to recover the possession of a vessel that is under a claim of title)
  • Property Arrests Quasi in Rem (Legal action primarily based on property rights that includes personal rights)
  • Vessel Arrests in Rem (Lawsuit against an item of property, not against a person)
  • Jet Ski, Boat, and other Vessel Collisions

The common element of these federal court cases is the requirement that the court can exercise jurisdiction over maritime property. In a petitory and possessory action, a vessel whose title is in dispute will often be put into the possession of the court until the dispute is resolved. In a limitation action, the shipowner will be required to post a bond in accordance to the value of the vessel and any pending freight.


All other maritime cases not included in the above – such as claims for damaged cargo, personal injuries, maritime products liability, vessel collisions, and recreational boating accidents may be brought in either federal or state court, but only under the guidance of federal law.

Lawful Protection of Maritime Workers

Maritime employees are covered under federal laws, with cases brought about in federal or state court. The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, referred to as the Jones Act, protects maritime workers and seamen who became injured while on the job. Under the act, workers can bring about a lawsuit to recover for any negligence attributable to – or knowingly committed by – the employer.

  • Maintenance and Cure: Similar to workers' compensation, maintenance and cure ensures compensation in the event that a maritime employee is injured while doing their job. This includes coverage for medical bills.
  • Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act: Many maritime workers do not work on boats or vessels - instead, they work on the docks, ports, and harbors. In the event that they become injured while on the job, the LHWCA helps them to seek necessary benefits during their recovery.

  • Unseaworthiness: General maritime law requires vessel owners to warrant that a vessel and related equipment is reasonably fit for all intended purposes. Unseaworthiness constitutes a breach of such warranty.


  • Vessel Sinkings: Vessels, ships, and boats need to be built strong and properly to withstand the bodies of water they are to be used upon. The appropriate safety equipment and tools must be available to the crew and passengers for use in bad weather or during an accident. Victims are deserving of compensation and recovery when there is apparent negligence.
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Wrongful Death: The United States Death on the High Seas Act of 1920 is an admiralty law enacted to permit the recovery of damages against a shipowner by a spouse, child, or dependent family member of a seaman killed in international waters. In wrongful death cases found to be caused by negligence or unseaworthiness the DOHSA ensures recovery for loved ones. The act also can apply to the sad event of an airline disaster that occurs beyond the territorial limit of U.S. waters and when maritime workers are lost at sea. General maritime law governs territorial waters, as well as the high seas.

Contact us for more information about our law practice at Goldfinch Winslow, LLC, or to discuss your legal concerns with an attorney who understands maritime law.