What Laws Apply to Boat Accidents?

Federal Admiralty & Maritime Law

Admiralty and Maritime Law govern the navigable waters of the United States, including its lakes and rivers. The U.S. Constitution designates federal courts as courts of original jurisdiction for admiralty and maritime cases. However, federal courts do not have exclusive jurisdiction in this area, and many maritime cases can be heard in a state court under the “saving to suitors” clause.

The only admiralty or maritime cases that must be brought in federal court are:

  • In rem lawsuits (filed against property rather than a person) for vessel arrests;
  • Quasi in rem property arrests;
  • Salvage cases;
  • Ownership and possession actions; and
  • Limitation of shipowner’s liability.

Wrongful death and negligence are also recognized causes of action under general maritime law.

California Law

California law applies to a boating accident that results in death or serious injury within the state. Wrongful death and negligence, as defined by California law, will apply to personal injury lawsuits, as will other theories of liability (i.e. vicarious liability, common carrier liability, etc.).

Shipowner Liability Under Federal Maritime Law

Individuals who are on board a shipowner’s vessel can sue the shipowner for their negligent acts and that of their crew.

A shipowner owes certain duties to individuals aboard their vessel according to 3 categories:

  • Passengers;
  • Seamen; and
  • Visitors.

Passengers. Under Federal Maritime law, a passenger is someone who travels on a vessel for public transportation, and who is not part of its crew. The shipowner must exercise reasonable care to ensure the safety of persons who travel as passengers on the vessel. Accordingly, persons who sneak on board (i.e. stowaways) are simply owed humane treatment while on board.

Furthermore, a contractual carrier-passenger relationship exists by virtue of the passenger having purchased a ticket. Specific contract terms will govern aspects of the litigation, including where the lawsuit is heard, the applicable law, etc.

Seamen. A seaman is a member of the vessel’s crew. A shipowner owes a duty of care to the crew, ensuring the seaworthiness of the vessel. As a result, the shipowner is strictly liable for injuries sustained by any seamen resulting from the vessel’s unseaworthiness. Seamen who are injured due to the vessel’s unseaworthiness are owed “maintenance and cure,” including lost wages and reasonable medical expenses necessary to treat the injury.

Visitors. A visitor is a person who is on the vessel to visit a passenger prior to disembarkation, and they are owed a duty to exercise reasonable care for their safety. However, because a visitor hasn’t purchased a ticket as a passenger, they are not subject to the provisions of the contract-for-carriage.

Statute of Limitations. Maritime torts have a 3-year statute of limitations under federal law. This applies mainly to seamen and visitors. However, since passengers are subject to a carrier contract, those provisions may effectively require passengers to file their claims within 1 year of the accident.

Consult an Experienced Santa Clarita Boat Accident Attorney

Boat accidents can involve overlapping areas of law, making personal injury claims complicated. As a result, boat accident victims should consult with an experienced boat accident lawyer in Santa Clarita. Attorney Robert J. Kaiser has dedicated over 2 years of his practice to serving Santa Clarita boat accident victims. He has the experience and skill to help clients achieve favorable results for their boat accident claims.

To schedule a free consultation with experienced Attorney Robert J. Kaiser, call the Law Office of Robert J. Kaiser at (661) 441-3446 or contact us online.


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