The Maritime Industry in Maryland: All You Need to Know About Maritime Law

The maritime industry in Maryland is an important and ever-growing one. It's a very segmented industry that includes seagoing activities for commercial purposes, shipbuilding and ship repair, commercial fishing, commercial recreational boating, coast guard activities, naval activities, and -- new to Maryland's maritime industry -- offshore wind farms (under construction) with the possibility for offshore oilfields at some point in the future as oil and gas exploration off the coast of Maryland is mulled.

Central to Maryland's maritime industry is the Port of Baltimore, and -- to a certain extent -- Port Annapolis. At the Port of Baltimore, things are moving at all times of the day and night. The Port has readily become one of the country's most important ports. Three of the world's largest container shipping companies operate at the Port: Evergreen, Maersk, and MSC. The Port imports and exports millions of tons of cargo a year. In fact, the first quarter of 2017 was a record-setting period for the Port with 2.56 million tons of general cargo handled at the port, a 5 percent increase from the first quarter of 2016. In addition to these commercial activities, the Port of Baltimore is home to three shipyards and also has cruise terminals for major cruise lines. All in all, the Port of Baltimore is busy, and it is only anticipated to get busier. Port Annapolis is also busy, but it focuses more on commercial fishing and commercial recreational boating.

Overall, the maritime industry brings in millions of dollars for Maryland yearly, and with Maryland set to be the country's lead in offshore wind farms, it is anticipated the maritime industry in Maryland will grow exponentially.

Though the economy benefits from maritime activities, occupational hazard abound. Personal injuries can result from a number of different incidents or accidents, and they can be devastating, even life-threatening. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), occupations in the maritime industry are some of the most dangerous occupations than what can be found in any other industry. Though there are regulations and rules in place to safeguard against injury, it happens, and it happens at an alarming rate. The following is a summary of the information you need to know.

History & Evolution of Maritime Law

Maritime law has been around since before the birth of the United States. Its extensive history makes for a complex law that our Founding Fathers deemed important enough to include in the U.S. Constitution. Since that time, however, U.S. maritime law has evolved. A particular focus of that evolution has been to personal injury law as it relates to the maritime industry. In 1920, the Jones Act was enacted, and in it were measures to help protect seamen from negligence that led to injuries at sea. That same year, the Death on the High Seas Act was also enacted, and that was put into place for surviving family members whose parent, spouse or child died while working at sea. Throughout the same period, the old common law doctrines of unseaworthiness and maintenance and cure were adopted and applied in cases where the owner or operator of a ship did not provide a water vessel worthy of the sea and an injury occurred due to it, or when a seamen became hurt or ill at sea through the fault of no one, and required compensation during the recovery of the injury or illness, respectively.

Though at the beginning of the 20th century, seamen were protected in cases where personal injuries meant time off work temporarily or permanently, other workers in the maritime industry were not afforded the same protections. The absence of protections for non-seamen maritime workers, however, soon changed. In 1927, the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act was enacted, and that covered harbor workers if injured during the course of their work, regardless of the fault of another person or entity. The protections to longshore and harbor workers were extended in 1953 to workers injured or killed while working on the outer continental shelf via the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. Workers on the outer continental shelf were primarily those working in the offshore oilfields. Maritime law has also expanded protections to workers in the military and other government agencies and to some extent it covers protections to passengers on cruise lines or other sightseeing water vessels. In recent years, the question of maritime law's applicability to offshore wind farm workers has been debated, and in Maryland, that question is more relevant than ever.

Maritime Personal Injury & Compensation: the Basics

Maritime personal injury law is a combination of statutes, common law, and case law that have been established or have evolved to protect those persons involved in the industry. It's recognized that a lot can go wrong within the industry, and a lot of what can go wrong can cause harm to maritime workers or other persons. Much of this harm manifests in personal bodily injuries from bruises to crush injuries to traumatic brain injuries to death by such things as asphyxia or drowning.

These injuries, some catastrophic or life-threatening, can be caused by equipment that is defective or malfunctioning, or by the acts or omissions of employers, contractors, employees, non-employees or passengers. The acts or omissions that cause the injuries often matter with respect to if they were negligent or intentional. The former requires a showing that a duty of care was breached and monetarily quantifiable injury resulted while the latter requires a state of mind and could entail a criminal nature.

To receive compensation for a maritime injury, there are two primary factors that determine which law is used to file a lawsuit under and to what extent compensation is provided to the injured person, and these two factors are: (1) where the injury was sustained; and (2) what your maritime status or designation was/is.

Accident Location, or Situs

Maritime accidents can occur at ports, offshore, or at sea, even in the air (think: helicopter transport from one place to another). The law that governs compensation for an injury, illness, or death is often in whole or in part dependent on the location of the accident.

At Port

A port is a very busy place. There are often hundreds of workers, from dockworkers to shipbuilders to welders to crane operators. All have a specific purpose and most must conduct their tasks in unison with the tasks conducted by most other workers in order for productivity and safe conditions to thrive. Machines used onsite are hulky, complex things that demand the operator posses both skill and focus. When someone does something in error, it can jeopardize the health and lives of others; when management doesn't conduct proper inspections and maintenance, it can threaten safe working conditions. Common types of accidents involve cranes, mooring lines, and overall offloading or onloading activities.

Offshore on Wind Farms & Oilfields

Offshore work is particularly dangerous, whether it is the construction of a wind farm or oilfield, or the operation of the same. These are facilities of tremendous size built and maintained in shallow water yet harsh environmental conditions. The role of the diver is particularly important to offshore work as much as it is particularly dangerous. A diver's safety is hugely dependent on others as they dive deep into the water to weld or exercise other construction and maintenance tasks. Other occupational hazards include confined spaces, personnel transport from port to sea to another vessel and back again. There are also, among other hazards, collision risks, and evacuation issues. Collisions with other water vessels, helicopters, or personnel baskets occur from time to time, and evacuation issues arise when a sudden storm or other condition makes evacuation of an offshore facility necessary but difficult.

On Ships & Other Water Vessels

Accidents that occur onboard ships or water vessels range from the insignificant to the severe. Accidents on ships or other water vessels can be caused by any number of things, from workers or passengers acting negligently or intentionally to a ship owner or operator not inspecting or maintaining the ship or its equipment. Accidents occur onboard due to unseaworthy vessels, electrical short circuits, falls from heights, unsecured objects, malfunctioning equipment, defective equipment, insufficient use of safety gear, lack of enough safety gear, chemical leaks, kitchen accidents, among many other causes. An accident that can occur on ships and other vessels but which are caused by external threats include running aground, collision with another vessel, water and weather conditions, and -- on occasion -- piracy.

Maritime Worker Status

Like location, or situs, the status of the injured party will determine which law is invoked. Generally, situs and status are logically connected because a worker's status will determine where he is working, and vice versa. Thus, the two often, but not always, go hand-in-hand when determining under which law(s) a claim or lawsuit will be filed.

Seamen

A seaman is a person who spends a significant amount of time working as a crewmember on as a captain of a water vessel in navigation. "In navigation" is a special legal term that means the vessel must be afloat, in operation, capable of moving, and on navigable waters. That said, a person working on the vessel is still a seaman by law even if the vessel is not at sea or moving. Seamen who are injured have three primary sources of compensation: (1) the Jones Act; (2) the doctrine of Unseaworthiness; and (3) the doctrine of Maintenance and Cure.

Longshoremen & Harbor Workers

Longshoremen and harbor workers include all those persons who work in the maritime industry, on or near vessels that are on navigable waters, but who are not classified as seamen. Examples include harbor construction workers, stevedores, shipbuilders, ship repairers, ship-breakers, dock workers, welders, crane operators, and others. When injured on the job, whether it is through negligence or an intentional act by an employer, other person or other entity, longshoremen and harbor workers can be compensated. Usually, compensation comes under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, which is basically workers' compensation on par with various workers' compensation programs that all states have. 

Offshore Workers

Offshore workers traditionally included those persons working on offshore oil or gas fields. If injured during the course of their work, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act applies, and compensation can be sought under it. Now, offshore wind farms are being constructed, and the question is: does the same maritime law that applies to personal injuries in the context of offshore oilfields apply to offshore wind farms? To date, the law is nascent on this matter.

Passengers or Visitors

You are a passenger if you purchased a ticket to be on the ship or water vessel. If you are injured during your time on the water vessel, then you have a right to compensation most likely under either state or general maritime law. To obtain compensation, you must prove negligence.

The following chart provides an overview - general and not complete - of maritime law as it applies to personal injuries.

Statute or Doctrine

Status Designation

Situs, or Location

Common Remedies

Negligence required?

The Jones Act

Seamen

At sea

At port

Offshore

In transport (by boat or helicopter)

- physical pain and suffering

- mental anguish

- loss of past income

- loss of earning capacity

- post medical expenses

- costs of future medical care

Yes

Maintenance and Cure

(general maritime law)

Seamen

So long as “in the service of the vessel,” the accident can occur:

At sea

At port

Offshore

In transport (by boat or helicopter)

Until maximum medical improvement is reached, will receive:

- maintenance: financial resources (money sufficient to assist with costs for lodging, food, and utilities)

- cure: payment for proper medical care and treatment until maximum medical improvement

- punitive damages

No

Unseaworthiness                 

(general maritime law)

Seamen

At sea

- punitive damages

- past & future medical expenses

- physical & mental pain & suffering

- mental anguish

- physical disability

- loss of past & future income

- loss of earning capacity

- other household or travel expenses

No, but must show vessel was “unseaworthy”

LHWCA

Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act

Longshoremen

Dockworkers

On or near a vessel on navigable waters

- temporary total or partial disability

- permanent total or partial disability

- transportation costs to/from

- vocational rehabilitation benefits

No

OCSLA

Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act

(an extension of the LHWCA)

Workers on oil rigs & platforms

Longshoremen

Harbor Workers

Shipbuilders

Ship repairers

Offshore platforms on the Outer Continental Shelf

- medical costs

- disability payments

- rehabilitation costs

No

DOHSA

Death on the High Seas Act

Surviving spouse

Children

Dependent parents or siblings

Outside territorial waters, or beyond 3 nautical miles of the shore

- past & future lost wages

- medical services furnished prior to death

- funeral expenses

- decedent's pre-death pain & suffering

Yes

Maritime personal injury law

Passengers

Vacationers

State territorial waters

Federal territorial waters

- punitive damages

- past & future medical expenses

- physical & mental pain & suffering

- mental anguish

- physical disability

- loss of past & future income

- loss of earning capacity

- other household or travel expenses

Yes

PVA

Public Vessels Act

Almost anyone

on or around a vessel owned or operated by U.S. government

Along with benefits obtained from Jones Act, if applicable, injured party can obtain under PVA:

- lost wages

- medical expenses to extent they have not been paid by employer

- future medical expenses

- pain & suffering

- mental anguish

- any damages available for refusal to pay maintenance and cure

Yes

Defense Base Act                 

(an extension of the LHWCA)

Employees of U.S. government contractors

Overseas military bases

- disability benefits

- medical expenses

- partial loss of earnings

No

Wrongful Death

Wrongful death in a maritime setting is complex, maybe one of the most complex aspects of maritime personal injury law and litigation. Remedies vary according to which Act is invoked for the lawsuit. The law under which a lawsuit is filed depends on the exact circumstances, including who or what caused the death and where the death occurred. For instance:

  • If a seaman dies, the surviving family can file for compensation under the Jones Act if the employer's negligence caused the death.
  • If the seaman died due to the unseaworthiness of the ship, then compensation could be sought under the doctrine of unseaworthiness.
  • If the seaman's death occurred on the high seas (beyond 3 nautical miles off the shore) and was caused by another person or entity other than the employer, then the decedent's representative can file a claim under the Death on the High Seas Act.
  • If the decedent was a maritime non-seaman worker, and if an incident that caused the death occurred aboard a fixed platform, which is located either in state territorial waters or on the federal outer continental shelf waters, then the law of the adjacent state may apply.
  • If the accident that caused a maritime worker's death occurred within state territorial waters, then either state law or general maritime law may apply.

There are a lot of considerations that need to be reviewed and analyzed before a wrongful death claim or lawsuit is drafted and filed. To do so prematurely can be problematic and hinder maximum compensation to surviving family members.

Jurisdiction

The United States Constitution, under Article III, provides that, in part, “[t]he judicial power of the United States shall extend . . . to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction.” In personal injury cases, for admirality jurisdiction to extend to a tort claim, the claim must have two elements: (1) a maritime locality; and (2) a connection to maritime activity. See Jerome B. Grubart, Inc. v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., 513 U.S. 527, 534 (1995). The Admiralty Extension Act (46 U.S.C. 740 (West 1975)) extended federal jurisdiction to “cases of damage or injury, to person or property, caused by a vessel on navigable waters, notwithstanding that such damage or injury be done or consummated on land.” This means torts stemming from helicopter crashes, or other similar incidents, will also be considered under federal maritime and admiralty jurisdiction.

But personal injury claims are not solely subject to federal courts. Federal courts have concurrent subject matter jurisdiction with state trial courts over personal injury and wrongful death claims that invoke admiralty law. Having a choice of forum can complicate and frustrate a person who is already overwhelmed with a personal injury or death of a loved one. Without understanding the advantages or disadvantages that one forum has over another can cause an injured party to lose out on maximum compensation.

The Importance of an Experienced Maritime Personal Injury Lawyer

There are lawyers, and then there are experienced lawyers. For some people, it may be hard to distinguish the difference. For others, money matters, so a cheaper lawyer may be more appealing. At Gilman & Bedigian, we are experienced, and if you have been injured in a maritime personal injury incident or accident, we represent you until you receive just and fair compensation. It is only at the time you receive compensation that you pay us. With us, you don't have to worry about the money, you only have to worry about recovery.

With that said, let us provide more reason why it is important you retain a maritime personal injury lawyer rather than go about dealing with the maritime company and its lawyers and insurance carrier either by yourself or with an inexperienced lawyer who can make matters worse. Consider the following questions.

Do you know which forum to file your claim or lawsuit?

In maritime personal injury cases, you have choices of a forum: federal court or state court. Depending on your circumstances -- most circumstances -- the forum chosen to file will have an impact on the value of the compensation you obtain, for better or worse. If you have a choice of forums, you must choose it wisely, but this is no easy task. You must know how one or the other will either benefit you or work to your detriment. Factors to consider when choosing a forum include: how long it takes for a trial date to be set; what the jury pool -- if applicable -- will be like; or if the judge will be more conservative or liberal.

Do you have the resources to conduct a thorough investigation?

An investigation does not end with police reports, your statement, eyewitness accounts, and photographs. A thorough investigation involves much more depending on the circumstances of the case and the facts already known. Experts may be required for future investigation and to produce expert testimony, expert reports, etc. Resources (time, staff, and money, to name a few) will be required to advance a thorough investigation.

Do you have a strategic plan for both the pretrial and trial phases of your case?

Do you know the tactics used by vessel owners or insurance carriers to stymie your choice of forum or hinder your plan to obtain maximum compensation? They have options, including filing a declaratory judgment action in federal court to force a specific forum that it deems more favorable or to prevent you from having a jury trial in state court. They can also file a Limitation of Liability Proceeding in federal court to also select a forum more favorable to them and to limit liability, thus, limit compensation. These are just two of there many tactics. You need to know how they operate, why they operate that way, and what to do about it. A strategic plan for pretrial and trial phases are imperative to a successful outcome.

Do you know what to do after a trial has concluded and you were awarded compensation?

If your case settled, then you likely signed a release document, which sets out the terms of the settlement. If you were awarded a judgment, then the process to obtain money can be a little more difficult. In the former instance, a one-time check may be provided, or there may be a payment plan established. If the latter, then if a payment is late or is never received, you have to follow-up and be persistent about it. Some companies and insurance carriers may be stubborn and make life difficult for you. In cases where there is a judgment, the defendant(s) may file an appeal, further complicating receipt of just and fair compensation in a timely manner. This whole process could prove more exhausting than anything else about the trial but for the assistance of a skilled lawyer who knows how to handle it efficiently and effectively.

Do you know time is of the essence?

Time is certainly of the essence, and if you don't make deadlines, then you don't get compensation. Three years, generally, is the statute of limitations for most maritime personal injury cases, and though this sounds like a long time -- once you are in the middle of it, 3 years can pass by rather quickly and without warning. The time frame, however, is shorter for an injured person filing a claim against the U.S. government via the Public Vessels Act, which carries a statute of limitations of 2 years. It's even shorter if you are a passenger filing a personal injury claim, which is generally 6 months to file a notice and one year to file the claim.

Do you know what Gilman & Bedigian trial attorneys can do for you?

Retaining a maritime personal injury lawyer through Gilman & Bedigian in Maryland will help you move faster towards your goal: maximum compensation. The benefits we provide through our legal services is three-fold:

  1. Exceptional legal representation of your case through the use of thorough investigations, creative analysis, intelligent legal strategy, formidable negotiations directly with the defendants, and judicious yet aggressive litigation.
  2. Clear and concise communication with you to ensure you understand each step of the process and are unworried about the outcome.
  3. Compassion, because we know these are difficult times. We understand it, and we respect it.

Maryland Maritime Attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian

The attorneys at the Maryland law office of Gilman & Bedigian represent maritime workers who have been injured during the course of their work. You deserve the most compensation maritime law can provide, and we know how to identify the right law and right course of action that results in the fairest and just remedy for you. Contact us online or call our law office at (800) 529-6162.

Let Us Help

If someone you are close to has been seriously injured or worse, you are naturally devastated not only by what has happened, but by the effect that the injury or loss has had on you and your family. At a time when you're vulnerable, traumatized and emotionally exhausted, you need a team that will support you through the often complex process that lies ahead.

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