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What is Admiralty Law?

Definition of Admiralty Law

Admiralty law, also called maritime law, is a combination of U.S. and international law that covers all contracts, torts, injuries or offenses that take place on navigable waters. Admiralty law traditionally focused on oceanic issues, but it has expanded to cover any public body of water, including lakes and rivers. These laws largely cover interactions between two or more ships, the ship captain's obligations to the crew and passengers, and the rights of crew members, as well as other legal issues.

Federal district courts usually hear all admiralty cases, but states may also hear. Courts apply special rules and legal principles to admiralty cases.

Terms to Know

  • Admiralty Court - A court, usually a federal court, that has jurisdiction over admiralty cases and that applies the special rules and laws of maritime law
  • U.S. Coast Guard - A federal agency responsible for enforcing all federal laws on the oceans, seas, and other bodies of waters in or near the United States
  • Jones Act - A federal law, also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, that governs maritime commerce, the rights of crew members, and maintenance and other requirements of boats and shipping operations
  • Jurisdiction - A legal term for a court's authority to hear a specific case; federal courts generally have jurisdiction over admiralty cases
  • Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act - A federal law that requires maritime employers to provide worker's compensation for injuries and illnesses that crew members suffer while serving on a ship
  • Maritime - Anything related to navigation on water; another word for admiralty

For more definitions, visit the FindLaw Legal Dictionary.

Other Considerations When Hiring an Admiralty Law Attorney

Many legal issues that occur on land can also occur on the water, such as workers' compensation, criminal offenses, personal injury or employment issues. However, when they occur on the water, admiralty law often applies special legal rules. For example, claims regarding cargo on a ship are covered by federal law and international treaties, which likely would not apply when someone's property is lost or damaged on land. Therefore, when faced with a legal issue where admiralty law applies, you should consult an attorney familiar with these special laws and rules rather than simply hiring a personal injury attorney.

Additionally, admiralty lawyers should also be familiar with the many international laws that may apply in maritime cases, such as import/export regulations and international environmental requirements.

If you have a maritime legal issue, contact an admiralty lawyer immediately to preserve your rights and explore your legal options.

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