An Overview of Louisiana Maritime Law

Maritime law has been around for a long time. Ever since boats have been used to move goods there has been a need for laws governing their transport. Because of its long history, maritime law is very complex and involves a lot of international, federal, and state laws. The first official U.S. maritime law was the Judiciary Act of 1789 that put jurisdiction over this area of law within federal courts.

The Jones Act, or Section 27 of the Merchant Marine Act, passed in 1920 is another very important piece of Maritime law. This law officially codifies the rights of seaman. The latest version of this law passed Congress in 2006. Under the Jones Act seaman can bring lawsuits against their employers in either state or federal court and are entitled to a jury trial. Many find protection in federal courts to be more advantageous, however. Unlike international maritime law, the Jones Act gives seaman the right to pursue legal claims against ship owners based on negligence or unseaworthiness. The Act applies to employees who spend at least 30% of their time on a navigable vessel (although this requirement has been interpreted very broadly by courts). There is a three year statute of limitations for claims filed under the Jones Act. This means that if a claim is not filed within three years of when the injury occurred, it will be time barred.

With Louisiana’s long coastline, multiple ports, channels, waterways, and rivers, the Jones Act becomes very important. Shipping is a big industry here and recreational boating activities play a major role in the economy. Anyone who spends more than 30% of their work time onboard a vessel may be entitled to compensation under this law. This goes beyond what one might traditionally think of as “seaman” and includes inland river workers or anyone who spends significant time on floating or moving structures. Even certain onshore oil industry employees can be covered if they spend significant time on the back deck of a boat loading and unloading supplies. If an employee is killed while working their survivors may be entitled to compensation under the Act as well.

Compensation under the Jones Act can be a complicated matter and may be very dependent on the facts of the case. First, a seaman may receive what is called maintenance and cure. Maintenance and cure can be recovered for an injury or illness that occurred while a seaman was under a service contract of a ship whether or not the injury was actually sustained on the ship. Maintenance is the cost of room and board the seaman would have gotten on the vessel if he was not injured and begins the day the injured person left the vessel. Cure refers to medical expenses incurred as a result of the injury or illness. Second, individuals may be able to recover lost wages, or money they would have earned if they had not been injured. Finally, damages to compensate the seaman for his pain and suffering can be collected.

If you or someone your love was injured while working on some type of vessel you may be entitled to recover under the Jones Act. Your success will require excellent legal representation and an attorney who understands the intricacies of the law and is willing to conduct an intense factual investigation.

At the Berniard Law firm we are very familiar with this area of law and would be happy to help you.