Who Controls Maritime Law?     

Who Controls Maritime Law?     

Who Controls Maritime Law?

The US Constitution under Article III, Section 2 provides Federal courts original jurisdiction over Admiralty and maritime matters. The federal courts have long fashioned the guidance and rules of Admiralty and General Maritime Law (as the Courts have interpreted  the Judiciary Act of 1789). Congress also regulates maritime law under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.  An injured maritime worker or anyone injured on a vessel on navigable waters can still bring a general maritime claim in state court under the “Saving to Suitors Clause” of 28 U,S,C, Section 1333, which specifically allows for an individual’s claim to be brought in state court or in a federal court with a jury if Admiralty is not pled.

Many maritime laws are still not codified and are enforced under the General Maritime Law (like the doctrine of maintenance and cure and the duty of the vessel owner of “seaworthiness” of the vessel – often called “unseaworthiness”) On the other hand, Congress has passed many very important legislation to protect maritime workers.  For example, the “Jones Act” requires all US flagged vessels to carry only American seamen, requires foreign vessels who trade with a US port to treat their workers as seamen under the Act, and has been interpreted to lessen the burden of proof on causation of injury (“featherweight causation”).

The Death on the High Seas Act provides families with causes of action for deaths occurring beyond the territorial boundaries of the states.  The Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act provides for special treatment of dock and cargo workers injured on the job.  The Seaman’s Wage Act provides for federal court protection if a maritime worker on a vessel is not properly compensated – US or foreign flagged.  Finally, the Suits in Admiralty Act waives federal immunity in cases where a private interest has been harmed (injured or lost property) by the negligence of the government.

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