Definition of admiralty law
admiralty law (uncountable)
- (law): The area of law that deals with ships at sea and the rights of sailors, passengers, and owners of cargo.
Admiralty law (also referred to as maritime law) is a distinct body of law which governs maritime questions and offenses. It is a body of both domestic law governing maritime activities, and private international law governing the relationships between private entities which operate vessels on the oceans. It deals with matters including marine commerce, marine navigation, shipping, sailors, and the transportation of passengers and goods by sea. Admiralty law also covers many commercial activities, although land based or occurring wholly on land, that are maritime in character.
Admiralty law is distinguished from the Law of the Sea, which is a body of public international law dealing with navigational rights, mineral rights, jurisdiction over coastal waters and international law governing relationships between nations.
Although each legal jurisdiction usually has its own enacted legislation governing maritime matters, admiralty law is characterized by a significant amount of international law developed in recent decades, including numerous multilateral treaties.
Features of admiralty law
- Maintenance and cure
The doctrine of maintenance and cure is rooted in the Article VI of the Rolls of Oleron promulgated in about 1160 A.D. The obligation to "cure" requires a shipowner to provide medical care, free of charge, to a seaman injured in the service of the ship, until the seaman has reached "maximum medical cure". The concept of "maximum medical cure" is more extensive than the concept "maximum medical improvement". The obligation to "cure" a seaman includes the obligation to provide him with medications and medical devices which improve his ability to function, even if they don't "improve" his actual condition. They may include long term treatments permit him to continue to function well. Common examples include prostheses, wheelchairs, and pain medications.
The obligation of "maintenance" requires the shipowner to provide a seaman with his basic living expenses while he is convalescing. Once a seaman is able to work, he is expected to maintain himself. Consequently, a seaman can lose his right to maintenance, while the obligation to provide cure is ongoing.
A seaman who is required to sue a shipowner to recover maintenance and cure may also recover his attorneys fees. Vaughan v. Atkinson, 369 U.S. 527 (1962). If a shipowner's breach of its obligation to provide maintenance and cure is willful and wanton, the shipowner may be subject to punitive damages.
- Personal injuries to passengers
Shipowners owe a duty of reasonable care to passengers (for a broad overview of this theory in law, see negligence). Consequently, passengers who are injured aboard ships may bring suit as if they had been injured ashore through the negligence of a third party. The passenger bears the burden of proving that the shipowner was negligent. While the statute of limitations is generally three years, suits against cruise lines must usually be brought within one year because of limitations contained in the passenger ticket. Notice requirements in the ticket may require a formal notice to be brought within six months of the injury. Most U.S. cruise line passenger tickets also have provisions requiring that suit to be brought in either Miami or Seattle.
- Maritime liens and mortgages
Banks which loan money to purchase ships, vendors who supply ships with necessaries like fuel and stores, seamen who are due wages, and many others have a lien against the ship to guarantee payment. To enforce the lien, the ship must be arrested or seized. An action to enforce a lien against a U.S. ship must be brought in federal court and cannot be done in state court.
- Salvage and treasure salvage
When property is lost at sea and rescued by another, the rescuer is entitled to claim a salvage award on the salved property. There is no "life salvage". All mariners have a duty to save the lives of others in peril without expectation of reward. Consequently salvage law applies only to the saving of property.
There are two types of salvage: contract salvage and pure salvage, which is sometimes referred to as "merit salvage". In contract salvage the owner of the property and salvor enter into a salvage contract prior to the commencement of salvage operations and the amount that the salvor is paid is determined by the contract. The most common salvage contract is called a "Lloyd's Open Form Salvage Contract".
In pure salvage, there is no contract between the owner of the goods and the salvor. The relationship is one which is implied by law. The salvor of property under pure salvage must bring his claim for salvage in court, which will award salvage based upon the "merit" of the service and the value of the salvaged property.
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