General Maritime Law

Maritime law has evolved over time to cover a variety of accidents and injuries that occur at sea. There are three broad areas of law that can come into play when such legal cases arise. These include:

  • Law of the Sea (international law and treaties)
  • General Maritime Law (common law court decisions)
  • Maritime Law (specific statutes involving events occurring at sea)

International Law

The law of the Sea governs areas offshore that are beyond coastal national waters. These laws and treaties govern a number of activities such as defining sea borders, controlling pollution, and ownership of natural resources. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is an entity responsible for developing much of these legal requirements.

General Maritime Law

General Maritime Law provides protections similar to workers’ compensation benefits to seamen who work at least 30 percent of their working hours onboard either a specific vessel or fleet of ships with common ownership. “Maintenance and cure” is the term used for this right to recover, and imposes strict liability on the employer. Maintenance covers room and board costs during recovery. Cure refers to the necessary and reasonable medical expenses, which are paid until “maximum medical improvement” is achieved.

General Maritime Law also requires ship owners to provide a seaworthy vessel to the seamen and passengers aboard. The “doctrine of unseaworthiness” imposes strict liability on vessel owners for injuries that occur on their vessel when it is not reasonably fit for its intended use.


Over time, the Legislature has adopted certain statutes to cover many specific circumstances. Examples include:

The common law is not entirely irrelevant in analyzing Jones Act and other cases involving statutory law. The two components of law, statutory and common law, complement one another. Often, it is not possible to achieve a decision covering all aspects of a case and determining liability without relying on both statutory law (and court decisions interpreting the statute) as well as strictly common law precedents and decisions.

For example, a seaman may be entitled to recover under a theory of maintenance and cure for certain living expenses and medical benefits. However, if the marine employer was negligent and that caused the injuries, then the seaman could also recover for pain and suffering under the Jones Act or violation of the doctrine of unseaworthiness.

Considerations when Pursuing a Maritime Case

Federal courts have original jurisdiction in maritime cases. 28 U.S.C. 1333. This means that if a State court hears a maritime case, it is required to apply Federal court decisions and applicable Federal laws to analyze and decide the case.

The statute of limitations for filing a case will depend on what theory of recovery is being pursued. Generally, Jones Act and unseaworthiness cases must be bought within three years from the date of accident or injury.

Maritime law is a complex amalgam of common law, statutory law, and case law interpretation of statutes. We strongly advise anyone injured at sea to obtain legal counsel from an attorney experienced in handling maritime cases.

South Jersey Maritime Lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. Represent Injured Longshore and Port Workers

If you or a loved one has been injured in a maritime accident, contact a seasoned South Jersey maritime lawyer at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. to help you determine the best course of action to pursue your claim for compensation. Call 888-999-1962 or submit an online form to arrange a free consultation today. Our offices in Philadelphia and Cherry Hill, New Jersey serve clients throughout South Jersey, including the areas of Cape May, Gloucester, and Wildwood. We also have offices in Pinehurst, North Carolina to assist clients in the surrounding area.