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When Do You Need a Maritime Lawyer?

— April 19, 2021

Act quickly after any sort of boating accident and talk to a maritime lawyer about your next steps.

A maritime lawyer is an attorney that handles cases dealing with ships and accidents or disputes at sea. Maritime or “admiralty” lawyers handle wide areas of law and many different types of cases, from shipping and trade disputes to employment disputes on ships to accident and injury cases.

For the average person, your encounter with maritime law will often be in the case of an accident or injury on a boat or other vessel. Even on lakes and rivers, maritime law might apply because you are boating on “navigable waters.” After any time of injury on a boat or at sea, consider taking your case specifically to a maritime lawyer instead of a “normal” personal injury lawyer.

When to Hire a Maritime Injury Lawyer

Maritime injury lawyers deal with injury cases from a large variety of different types of accidents. Any boat crashes or injuries aboard a boat could become maritime injury cases if they happened in “navigable waters.” This means that your case might be governed by maritime law instead of the specific state laws where the injuries occurred. Maritime cases are often handled by maritime lawyers, who usually need additional training and certification to call themselves maritime lawyers.

Boat Crashes

Crashes between two boats – or boat accidents caused by crashes into docks, piers, or rocks – can leave victims with serious injuries. Boats do not have brakes, so crashes often occur at high speeds and can throw passengers and crew down to the deck, knock them into bulkheads, or even throw them overboard.

Shallow river high speed boating at Skippers canyon near Queenstown, New Zealand; image by Shahid Kazi, via
Shallow river high speed boating at Skippers canyon near Queenstown, New Zealand; image by Shahid Kazi, via

Accidents involving party boats, ferries, yachts, or even speed boats and fishing boats could leave victims with serious injuries. A boating accident lawyer can help these victims get the compensation they need.

Injuries on Cruise Ships

Cruise ship injury attorneys often file claims against large cruise lines for injuries and illness to passengers. Slip and fall injuries on deck and other injuries caused by unsafe hazards are especially common. Other incredibly common causes of injury actually include assault or sexual assault by a crew member, food poisoning, and injuries from over-serving patrons at bars and restaurants aboard the ship.

Cruise ship injuries can also include injuries on excursions, such as bus tours, helicopter tours, snorkeling outings, and surfing trips. As long as the excursion left from the ship or was hosted by a company that is a subsidiary of the cruise line, the accidents and injuries could be the cruise line’s fault.

Crew and Seamen Injuries

If you work on a container ship, a barge, an oil rig, a fishing boat, a tug, or any other commercial boat or ship, you might already be familiar with some aspects of maritime law. The Jones Act, one of the foundational acts in U.S. Maritime Law, provides options for injured crew and seamen to sue their employer or the ship owner for accidents aboard a vessel. This can often help victims get compensation if the ship was not seaworthy or if accidents at work caused them serious injuries. The families of deceased crew and ship workers may also be able to hold the employer or ship owner responsible for their loved one’s deadly injuries.

When Do You Need a Lawyer for a Maritime Boat Accident Case?

Many injury victims deal with questions about how early they need to hire a lawyer and how long they can wait before filing a case or consulting with an attorney about their injuries. Keep in mind that the timing is generally up to you, but there are some hard legal limits that affect your case and some important considerations to keep in mind.

How Long Do I Have to File a Maritime Injury Case?

Technically speaking, you do not need to pursue an injury case after an accident. However, if you do not, then you will probably be responsible for your own damages and medical bills, even when someone else would have otherwise been liable. There is also no requirement that you have to work with a lawyer, but defendants who handle their own cases pro se are held to the same standards as lawyers. Without the training and experience of a seasoned maritime injury lawyer on your side, your case could be in jeopardy.

Maritime law gives victims 3 years from the date of injury to file their claims. This means that, at the absolute latest, you should speak with a lawyer with enough time left to give them a chance to schedule meetings, look over your case, and file the paperwork for you before you run out of time.

In some cases, your passenger ticket for a ride on a boat or cruise might have terms and conditions that give you a shorter timeframe to file your case. Talk to a lawyer early to make sure you do not miss the deadline.

How Early Should I Call a Maritime Lawyer?

While waiting until you have a few months left might be simpler for you, it is better to be proactive and talk to a lawyer as early as you can in the process. Talking to a lawyer on the same day you were injured or within a couple business days can help them get a leg up on your case. Your lawyer can oversee evidence collection, send letters to preserve evidence (e.g., security camera footage), and help keep track of your expenses and coordinate your care to help calculate damages. Giving your attorney more time to build your case is essential, especially for complex cases or cases involving many different parties.

After an accident, the at-fault party might send representatives to talk to you. Especially if you were hurt on a cruise or on transportation like a ferry, customer service teams, insurance companies, and even lawyers may contact you early on with attempts to get you to drop your case or settle hastily. Having a lawyer with you can help protect your case, protect your rights, and keep you from accepting a low-ball settlement offer.

Act Quickly to Protect Your Rights

Filing an injury case too late can mean losing your opportunity to get compensation entirely. Act quickly after any sort of boating accident and talk to a maritime lawyer about your next steps. Maritime lawyers get calls all the time for boating injury cases, and no one expects you to know how maritime law works or whether your case is right for a maritime lawyer before asking about it. The best way to find out is to call and set up a legal consultation to find out if a maritime lawyer can help with your case.

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