How Admiralty Law Views Claims of Personal Injury Liability

Suppose a passenger or crewman aboard a cruise ship slips through a faulty guardrail. Who is liable: the cruise operator or the guardrail manufacturer? When workers suffer injury or death while offshore, who owes what compensation to them or their survivors? The answers hinge on the complexities of admiralty and maritime law.

Admiralty law specifically governs legal issues on the water—the high seas as well as all coastal and inland waters and waterways. Maritime law presides over commerce & cargo, contract, torts & malfeasance, injury & offense that occur between two or more ships, as well as the rights and obligations of employers, crew, and passengers aboard seafaring vessels.

Two major components of admiralty law apply in most personal injury cases.

The Jones Act (Merchant Marine Act of 1920) governs seagoing commerce, crew rights, ship maintenance, and other operational requirements.

The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act dictates that worker’s compensation for work-related crew injuries and illnesses be provided by maritime employers to longshoremen and harborworkers.

If a worker is injured while on fixed platform rig itself, then the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act often would apply. Alternatively, if the injury occurred to a crewmember on board a ship docked at a fixed platform or on a floating rig, the Jones Act may be applicable. In either instance, the employer has the same obligation on land as at sea to ensure the safety of employees at the workplace. The harsher conditions of at-sea worksites excuse no employer from fulfilling those legal responsibilities.

The same holds true for the operators, crew, and passengers on cruise ships. Hence, to return to our initial situation, the Jones Act would mandate compensation by the cruise line if the faulty guardrail injured the crewman while on board. Likewise, the cruise line would be liable for passenger illness if an admiralty lawyer can successfully prove negligence. It may, however, not be liable for the actions of subcontractors—if, for example, the passenger fell ill while on a ship-to-shore excursion operated by a local tour company. On some cruise ships, medical staff is also outsourced, which means any passenger who alleges malpractice must bring suit against the staff member and/or the subcontracting agency directly.

Fine print matters, and maritime law is a specialty. Only a skilled admiralty lawyer, like the attorneys at Doyle Law Firm, can properly digest the details of an offshore incident and dependably discern who, if anyone, may be liable.