If someone violates the criminal law, then they are violating a state or federal criminal statute. If a company has an environmental issue, then there are a whole set of environmental laws, both state and federal, that regulate how environmental matters are handled legally. Even if you park illegally, then you are technically violating an ordinance that is written in a set of laws somewhere in your town.  

Essentially, we live in a world where we expect that our laws are codified in books somewhere. There is, however, on particular area of the law that is not technically codified as a set of statutes. That area of the law is General Maritime Law.  

General Maritime Law Comes Not from Statute, But from Cases That Came Before.

General Maritime Law is a legal discipline that uses cases from the past, i.e., common law, to shape how a maritime case should be handled. Unlike many legal areas, there is no set of federal or state statutes that specifically define the parameters of General Maritime Law.  

Thus, General Maritime Law can be one of the most complicated areas within which to practice. The proverbial “rules of the road” when it comes to maritime matters can only be found in the culmination of cases over the years that have dealt with maritime issues. Accordingly, if you are injured while working on the high seas, then you will need an attorney to assist you who is familiar and experienced with the traditionally complicated area of General Maritime Law.  

Fortunately, the seasoned professionals at the Law Offices of RITE Law have experience with General Maritime Law and can effectively represent you if you have been injured at sea.  

In this blog, we will talk about the basics of General Maritime Law, including who is covered, and what your legal rights are. If, after reading this article, you have more questions about your personal situation, we can help. Our number is (904) 500-RITE or you can fill out our contact form online. We provide a free case evaluation, so call today.

Who is Covered by the General Maritime Law?

General Maritime Law comes into play when you are injured while on the “navigable waters of the United States” or in international waters. Generally, the “navigable waters of the United States” are those waters that are subject to the ebb and flow of the tide and are used to transport interstate or foreign commerce.  

Rights Under General Maritime Law

1. Time Period to Sue

In typical cases, if you are injured and covered under the General Maritime Law, then there is a three-year statute of limitations to bring a claim. In other words, you have three years typically from the time of your injury to sue for compensation.  

There are, however, certain circumstances in which you are able to extend that three-year limitations period. One concept called “laches,” is one way in which to extend the limitations period. But those extensions vary on a case-by-case basis. 

2. Maintenance and Cure

A seaman has the right to compensation, typically called “maintenance and cure” under General Maritime Law. That form of compensation is, as the name suggests, to pay for the costs of healing from an injury, such as a per diem payment and medical care.  

The benefit to this type of compensation is that you do not generally need to prove that someone’s negligence caused your illness or injury. The fact of your injury on the navigable waters is sufficient to trigger compensation for your claim. You can also recover if your injury was due to the unseaworthiness of the vessel you are on.

3. Non-Seaman Coverage for Wrongful Death

General Maritime Law provides recovery to non-seamen for wrongful death in the waters of a state. However, if a death occurs more than three nautical miles from a state, then the wrongful death recovery comes from the rules under the Death on the High Seas Act, rather than from the General Maritime Law.  

In addition, General Maritime Law provides for a cause of action against negligent third parties if a passenger or non-seaman suffers and injury or death. 

4. Punitive Damages

Punitive damages under any area of the law are typically money payments to an injured party that is meant to punish the party that caused the injury.  

Under General Maritime Law, punitive damages are not typically allowed. However, if there is a case of injury from the unseaworthiness of a vessel, and the unseaworthiness is due to someone’s gross negligence, then some courts have provided for the injured party to receive punitive damages.  

5. Jurisdiction

Although some maritime cases could be adjudicated in state court in certain circumstances, federal courts normally have exclusive jurisdiction over maritime cases. Thus, a General Maritime Law case will typically be handled in federal court.  


If you suffered an injury while working on a vessel offshore, or if you were a passenger on a vessel on the high seas, you would be wise to contact an attorney who has experience in maritime law matters. As noted above, such cases can be very challenging because the General Maritime Law differs from normal personal injury cases in many ways.  

RITE Law Has Experience with General Maritime Law Cases

The attorneys at RITE law started their firm for one reason – to help those in Florida and elsewhere have the resources of a firm that was big enough to fight but small enough to care. At Rudolph, Israel, Tucker & Ellis (RITE law), we have the resources and experience to go to trial when it is necessary, and we have the wisdom to advise you appropriately.  

Without help from the RITE team, making a General Maritime Law claim can be very difficult. When you turn to our firm, we spring into action, making sure that every detail of your claim is addressed. Call us for help. Our number is (904) 500-RITE or you can fill out our contact form online.  We provide a free case evaluation, so feel free to call us today.