Alabama is home to over 16,000 miles of rivers and 53 miles of coastline along the Gulf of Mexico.  It comes as no surprise that the maritime industry is an important contributor to Alabama’s economy and is one of the top ten states for boating activity.  Just as Montgomery’s waterways are a source of abundant recreational and commercial activity, they can also be a source of accidents.  Accidents that happen on navigable waterways are unlike any other kind of accident and require specialization. If you are involved in an accident in Montgomery, call an experienced boat accident lawyer at The Vance Law Firm. Our firm will fight for your right to receive compensation for your boating accident claim. Call an experienced personal injury lawyer today.

Maritime law is complex and consists of interdependent modern legislation, old doctrine, international treaties, private contracts, and case law that govern legal issues and disputes that originate on navigable waters.  Navigable waters for this purpose is defined as all bodies of water that are used in interstate or foreign commerce.  For example, a large river that either crosses state lines or flows into the ocean is within maritime jurisdiction.  On the other hand, a lake that is entirely within one state is not included under the maritime law.  The Maritime law covers personal injuries that occur on navigable waters that often happen during commercial activity.  Increasingly, however, it has been applied to recreational boating accidents, too.

Commercial Activity and Accidents on Navigable Waters

Bordered by the Gulf of Mexico and home to thousands of miles of waterways, shipping and trade naturally contribute to Alabama’s economy.  Many residents of Montgomery, Alabama, are employed on vessels that navigate Alabama’s waterways or work offshore in the Gulf of Mexico.  The Alabama River’s commercial activity includes among other things, cruise ships and barge transportation, though the latter has dropped significantly since its 1980s prime, it still remains a source of employment for residents.  Other residents are employed on vessels on the Gulf of Mexico at the Port of Mobile, or they work for shipbuilding and repair companies or any other maritime company you can think of.  There are any number of opportunities for Montgomery residents to be employed by a maritime-related company.

The Alabama River flows south and empties into the mouth of the Mobile River, the country’s 6th largest river basin, which leads to the Port of Mobile.  The Port provides access to the interior and intra-coastal navigable waters.  Commercial operations on the Alabama River to the Port of Mobile and beyond can be dangerous.  Ships, boats, and barges that navigate these waterways can collide.  When collisions occur, the danger can be exacerbated by ignition of fuel or other combustible materials being transported on the vessel(s).  Collisions, however, are not the only risks.  Many risks that lead to dangerous situations are caused by negligence, carelessness, recklessness, and or intentional acts.

Maritime workers who are injured during the course of their employment are subject to different laws than employees injured while working on land; maritime workers are protected by specific maritime law and must follow the related legal processes accordingly. Four commonly known laws or doctrines are (1) The Jones Act; (2) Maintenance and Cure Doctrine; (3) Unseaworthiness Doctrine; and (4) Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.

The Jones Act and Maritime Accidents in Montgomery, AL

The Jones Act is a federal law.  It was enacted by Congress in 1920, and it provides benefits and rights to “seamen” who are injured while working on a ship or vessel.  To be considered as a “seaman,” you must meet certain qualifications under the Jones Act, least of which includes spending at least 30 percent of work time aboard a ship or vessel and contributing to the operation of the ship or vessel.  The determination if you qualify as a “seaman” alone is complex and requires legal counsel from a maritime law attorney in Montgomery.

A boat damaged in an accident near Montgomery.

If the injured worker qualifies as a “seaman,” then he or she is entitled to certain rights and benefits.  The law provides for a fair process for seamen or women to file a claim and receive compensation from their employer.  The injured party does have the burden to prove negligence on behalf of the employer and/or its employees as the cause of his or her injury.  If the negligent act of the employer or coworker resulted in death, the surviving family members are permitted to file a lawsuit.

Damages that are recoverable are similar to damages recoverable in any personal injury case.  Damages include:

  • past and future medical expenses;
  • past and future loss of income; and
  • past and future pain and suffering.

If you believe you have a negligence claim against an employer due to an accident while working as a seaman, then you should contact an experienced maritime lawyer in Montgomery, Alabama.

Maintenance and Cure Doctrine and Maritime Accidents in Montgomery, AL

The maintenance and cure doctrine is one of those ancient doctrines that make up part of maritime law’s net of multi-faceted doctrine, legislation, and case law.  Maintenance and cure, unlike the Jones Act, does not require proof of negligence.  It does, however, require that the injured party is defined as a “seaman,” using the same definition as the Jones Act.

The benefits of maintenance and cure law are two-fold, just as the name suggests: (1) provision of a daily stipend to cover the cost of living (maintenance); and (2) compensation to cover the cost of medical care associated with the seaman’s injury(s) (cure).  Maintenance refers to actual living expenses, but only applies to household necessities, and anything not deemed as a necessity (e.g. cable bill) will not be covered by it.  Cure expenses refer only to reasonable medical costs and include prescriptions, medical treatment and transportation to appointments; any expenses that go above and beyond what is reasonable will not be covered.  The employer must pay the maintenance and cure benefits until the seaman or woman has reached “maximum medical cure.”  The latter requirement must be met without regard to who was at fault.

Another element of the maintenance and cure law that is different from the Jones Act is an illness.  Maintenance and cure will cover both injuries and illnesses.  Conditions working on a ship or other vessel can lead to illnesses, but regardless what caused the illness, if you become sick due to work or while working, the maintenance and cure benefits apply, and your employer must provide maintenance and cure to you until you are well again and able to work.

Doctrine of Unseaworthiness and Maritime Accidents

Unseaworthiness is also an old doctrine, and it imposes a duty on ship owners, who may not necessarily be the employers, to provide proper maintenance and equipment on the vessel.  If the ship owners do not maintain or equip the vessels properly, then they are liable for any injuries that result from their negligence.  The law applies both to seamen, and other persons who do not qualify as seamen under the Jones Act and Maintenance and Cure doctrine.

A lawyer reviewing a boat accident claim.

For instance, some employees of cruise liners will not apply as seamen, therefore, they do not qualify for the benefits derived from the Jones Act and Maintenance and Cure.  They would then sue either separately or jointly their employer and/or shipowner for injuries that transpired while working on the shipping liner if related to the “unseaworthiness” of the ship.  An experienced maritime lawyer in Montgomery, Alabama, will be able to identify who qualifies for a lawsuit and how to go about that lawsuit under the Unseaworthiness doctrine.

Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) and Maritime Accidents

The LHWCA is a federal law and is another means for compensation for workers who perform work on navigable water and is injured while working there; it does not apply to “seamen” as defined by the Jones Act and Maintenance and Cure doctrine.  Examples of potential beneficiaries include longshoremen, maritime construction workers, shipbuilders, or any other employee that works on navigable water. The Act provides for compensation and medical care throughout the duration of an employee’s disability due to injuries or illness suffered in the course of the employee’s work.

The LHWCA provides benefits in much the same manner that worker’s compensation laws are applied by states. Also, like state workers’ compensation laws, the LHWCA does not require a worker to prove fault in order to be compensated.  In some cases, state workers’ compensation laws may undermine LHWCA benefits.

The benefits of the LHWCA include:

  • Compensation for medical bills;
  • Compensation for disability payments;
  • Compensation for rehabilitation from injuries; and
  • Compensation for vocational rehabilitation.

If a maritime worker dies during the course of employment, surviving family may seek wrongful death benefits under the LHWCA.

Overall, the LHWCA can prove complex just like any of the other laws under the umbrella of the maritime law.  Seeking legal counsel in Montgomery, Alabama will be important to ensure you receive the benefits and compensation you deserve.

Recreational Activities and Accidents on Navigable Waters

Many Montgomery residents enjoy being out on the water for recreational purposes.  There are numerous leasing and rental agencies throughout the city and metro area, and there are also popular excursion lines and cruise ships that take guests up and down the waterways to show off the scenic views while providing entertainment.  Sometimes, things can go wrong.  Accidents happen.  When they do, you need to know you have rights if you find yourself the victim of an accident that was caused by another person or entity while on navigable water.  There has been an increase in cases that have been handled under the jurisdiction of maritime law; the facts are fundamental to the determination of how a personal injury or wrongful death cases will be handled if injured while being entertained on navigable waters.

Cruise Lines, Excursion Lines, and Accidents

Owners of cruise ships, their contractors and subcontractors can all be held liable for accidents or personal injuries that happen while on the vessel on the river or at sea.  Employees who are injured are covered under the Jones Act, Maintenance and Cure doctrine, and/or the doctrine of Unseaworthiness, but tourists are not.  In addition, tourists purchase tickets that oftentimes are accompanied by terms and conditions of their trip, and these terms could potentially limit a negligence lawsuit.

A sunken boat after an accident.

Things that could go wrong and lead to injuries include:

  • Equipment failures;
  • Overcrowded boats;
  • Poorly trained crew members;
  • Lack of supervision or safety precautions;
  • Negligence; and among other possibilities,
  • Inadequate security that leads to assaults.

If you are on a cruise line or other entertainment boating excursion while in or around Montgomery, Alabama, and something goes wrong and you are injured, you have rights.  You should be compensated and can sue the owner of the boat, the company, manufacturing company, individual employees and/or other passengers (depending on what caused the injury and who is responsible for it).  The question will be if your rights fall under federal maritime law or state tort law. An experienced boat accident lawyer will help you with this process.

Private Boats and Accidents Alabama

Alabama has hundreds of thousands of boat registrations suggesting that kayaks to jet skis.  Being on the boat is fun and entertaining, but it has its risks, too.  As in anything, things can happen and someone can get injured.  When it happens on the water, federal or state jurisdiction will be determined if that water is navigable or not (for commercial purposes).  If legally defined as navigable, then federal maritime law applies. If not, then state tort law likely applies.

In Montgomery, the Alabama River is navigable water.  When accidents happen during recreational outings, you as the injured party may have legal rights, depending on the situation.  An experienced maritime law and boat accident lawyer will be able to walk you through your particular circumstances to determine your best legal options and benefits owed to you. We will help you file a claim for your injuries and damages while protecting your rights to recover compensation.

Contact a Boat Accident Lawyer in Alabama

If you or a loved one was injured while working on a ship or vessel or while being entertained on a ship or vessel, you have legal rights.  Distinguishing those legal rights and which laws apply can be a complex process that only an experienced law firm can address.  Contact The Vance Law Firm today to discuss the unique circumstances of your case.

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