Is There a Difference Between Admiralty Law and Maritime Law?

Living in Florida, you have likely heard the terms “admiralty law” or “maritime law” and wondered what those terms mean. If you have suffered property damage or been injured at sea, you are probably already familiar, but if not, you are probably a bit confused by the terms.


Admiralty Law vs. Maritime Law


These two terms are often used interchangeably, but at one time they were not one and the same. The term admiralty originally referred to a judicial court in American and English colonies. This type of court ruled over contracts and torts of the sea and were eventually expanded to include any losses and injuries on all navigable waters and not just the sea.


Maritime law, however, stemmed from the expansion in order to address and correct the hazardous traveling and working conditions in the offshore commercial undertakings. Early admiralty laws often found in favor of shipowners and restricted their workers’ rights. Maritime law, on the other hand, was more in favor of seaman and recognized their dangerous working conditions, low wages, and how they were at the mercy of the vessel on which they worked.


Today, there is no difference between admiralty law and maritime law and the two are used interchangeably. These laws cover a variety of cases including contracts, torts, injuries, and other offenses that take place on any navigable water.


Jurisdiction for Maritime and Admiralty Law


It is the federal courts that have jurisdiction of matters of admiralty and maritime law. These statutes detail guidelines that explain regulations and rules based on torts, contracts, and how maritime and admiralty cases should be handled. Although they are federal cases by nature, sometimes admiralty and maritime law cases are handled by the state court.


What Types of Incidents are Covered?


Now that you know the meanings of maritime law and admiralty law, it is important to also know what is covered under this type of law. Maritime and admiralty laws are typically a combination of international and United States laws that rule over contracts, torts, injuries, and offenses that take place on navigable water. These incidents may include, but are not limited to, the following:


  • Shipping accidents in which commercial cargo or a commercial vessel are damaged.
  • Omissions and errors by owners of commercial vessels.
  • Piracy and other types of criminal activity.
  • Contract violation and/or fraud.
  • Pollution that results from leaking or spilling of hazardous materials.
  • Employee wrongful death and/or injuries.
  • Ship owners who fail to follow labor regulations.


These are only some of the examples of incidents that could fall within maritime and admiralty law. Vessel owner and operators, including the owners and operators of cruise ships, are required to uphold a certain standard of care for the products and people on their ships, and incidents occur when they fail to do so.


Conditions of Maritime and Admiralty Law


Maritime and admiralty law are in place to protect workers if they are injured or die while performing the duties of their job. To be eligible for a claim to fall under admiralty or maritime law, three conditions must be met:


  • A vessel must be involved.
  • The incident must have happened on navigable waters.
  • The incident must have occurred when the worker was performing duties related to his or her job.


Maritime and admiralty laws are often a murky area of law with the claims being controversial and complex. It is not always clear cut and sometimes it is hard to distinguish what is considered a maritime or admiralty matter.


Maritime and Admiralty Terminology


To fully understand maritime and admiralty law, you need to understand the legal terminology that goes with it. For example, what are the definitions of navigable ‘water’ and ‘vessel’? Vessels, for example, include yachts, fishing boats, dredges, cargo and supply ships, barges, tugboats, crew boats, cruise ships, tankers, towboats, and offshore oil rigs.


Navigable waters may include oceans, lakes, bayous, rivers, and/or adjacent harbors. An experienced maritime and admiralty law attorney can explain to you where your particular situation falls..


Statute of Limitations for Maritime and Admiralty Law


Just like most other types of cases, those involving maritime or admiralty law have to be filed within a certain period of time. This prescribed time frame is referred to as the statute of limitation. There are also many different factors that determine the statute of limitations, especially when it comes to maritime and admiralty law.


  • Death on the High Sea Act: Family members or another party who is acting on behalf of the deceased may file a wrongful death claim within three years, but claims filed under Florida state laws may be subject to a much shorter statute of limitations.
  • Longshore Harbor and Workers’ Compensation Act: A plaintiff who wishes to file a suit under this act must do so within one year of the accident or incident to be eligible for compensation. Alternatively, a longshoreman may also bring a case within one year of having his LHWCA benefits terminated.
  • Jones Act: Any personal injury claims or legal actions filed under this act must be done so within three years of the date of the accident, or within three years of the date the victim knew about his or her injuries.
  • Cruise Line Passenger Claims: Typically, cruise lines will put language into their contracts that deprive passengers of their rights under admiralty and maritime law. One of the things they often waive is the normal three-year statute of limitations and instead use a one-year statute of limitations.


Just like other statutes of limitation, cases not brought to court within the set amount of time will likely be denied. This means if you do not file your claim in time, you will not be able to recover compensation for the accident or incident in which you were a victim.


Finding a Reputable Maritime and Admiralty Law Attorney


Because of the complex nature of maritime and admiralty laws, and the required statute of limitations that must be met, it is important to consult with an experienced maritime and admiralty law attorney as quickly as possible after your accident. The attorneys at Brill & Rinaldi, the attorneys at decades of experience helping their clients navigate the murky waters of maritime and admiralty law. Contact them today to schedule a consultation.