Boating accidents happen all the time. Our maritime lawyers are regularly contacted by people who have been injured in such accidents. There are many question a maritime lawyer must ask to determine what rights and remedies an injured person possesses. This article is intended to give just a sketch of how a maritime lawyer analyzes a boating accident injury claim.
The first question that must be answered is where did the accident occur. This answer is key to a maritime lawyer’s analysis of how to represent a injured client. If the accident occurred on “navigable waters”, federal maritime law applies. If the accident occurred on” non-navigable waters”, state law applies. Knowing whether the accident happened on navigable or non-navigable waters will tell a maritime lawyer the types of claims that can be brought, the standard of care owed to the injured person and the damages that can be recovered. Maritime and state law are very different from each other and lawyers who do not regularly practice maritime law oftentimes get tripped up when litigating a maritime case because they simply don’t know which law applies to the accident.
After finding out if maritime or state law applies to the claim, the next important fact a maritime lawyer must know is when the accident happen. Knowing when the accident occurred will tell the maritime lawyer if the claim falls within the “statute of limitations.” Simply put, a statute of limitation is the length of time in which a claim may be filed. If the accident occurred outside the statute of limitations, the law will not allow an injured person to file a lawsuit even if it could be proven that the wrongdoer is 100% liable.
Maritime law has a 3 year statute of limitations for personal injury claims (cruise line boarding passes often times shorten this time to 1 year). State statutes of limitation may be longer or shorter. For example Florida has a 4 year and Texas has a 2 year statute of limitations. This difference in the statute of limitations is not well known among non-maritime attorneys. This may prove devastating to your case especially if you hired the lawyer within 3 years of your accident, but the lawyer did not timley file the claim because he thought the longer state statute of limitations applied. A similar result may occur if the lawyer thought the shorter state court statute of limitations applies, and advises you the claim is time-barred when in fact it is not.
The next piece of information a maritime lawyer needs to know is what was the injured person’s status aboard the boat. Maritime law provides for different claims, standards of care and damages depending on whether the injured person was a passenger / guest, a crewmember / seaman, or a longshore / harbor worker. Knowing the injured person’s status is important in order to bring the appropriate claim.
In conclusion, maritime lawyers practice a specialized area of the law with many pitfalls that may trap non-maritime attorneys. Hiring an attorney knowledgable in maritime law who can perform a proper analysis will often times mean the difference between brining a successful claim and having the claim dismissed by the court.