Accidents can happen anywhere, including on the high seas. Whether an incident affects persons or cargo, admiralty law helps determine who is responsible.

Admiralty law, also known as maritime law, governs navigation and shipping, and may cover incidents involving cruise ships, commerce, and even ship hijacking and piracy. Just because a vessel is involved, however, that does not automatically mean that an incident falls under admiralty jurisdiction.

When does admiralty law take precident?

According to Marilyn Raia in Pacific Maritime Magazine, admiralty jurisdiction in the United States usually applies if the case “arises from an accident on the navigable waters of the United States and involves some aspect of maritime commerce.” A case also may fall under admiralty jurisdiction if it involves a contract involving maritime commerce, or if there has been a crime committed against a U.S. vessel or citizen on the high seas. Find¬†more on this page.


Under the Judiciary Act of 1789, U.S. federal courts have jurisdiction over most maritime cases. The 1982 U.S. Supreme Court case of Foremost Ins. Co. v. Richardson determined that admiralty jurisdiction included non-commercial vessels, including pleasure craft, and that non-commercial vessel owners must adhere to the same navigation rules as commercial vessels.

Protection for passengers and crew

Among other things, admiralty law exists to protect workers on vessels. The federal Merchant Marine Act of 1920, also known as the Jones Act, entitles U.S. workers to compensation if they are involved in an accident while working as a “seaman.” While the term is not specifically defined, a seaman is understood to mean a person assigned to a ship or fleet in navigable waters, whose work is related to the purpose of the vessel itself, according to The Jones Act grants workers the rights to compensation for medical care and lost wages, no matter who is at fault.

If you were injured on a cruise ship

Since admiralty law is now understood to include non-commercal craft, cruise ship operators can be held liable for injuries to their passengers. This is not always the case; cruise ship operators “must be found to have been negligent or acting with willful intent,” according to If faulty equipment or construction, for example, are involved in a passenger’s injury, the cruise ship operator could be held liable. However, an unexpected natural disaster, such as a tsunami, may cause dangerous sailing conditions, but the operator might not be liable for injuries to passengers or crew in that case.

Make sure the lawyer you hire has experience in maritime law

If you were injured in a cruise ship, charter boat or other type of boat accident on the waters around South Florida, turn to Barnes Trial Group for legal help seeking compensation.