Is There a Difference Between Maritime and Admiralty Law?

When you hear the terms maritime and admiralty law, do you think that they’re essentially the same thing? Maybe you’re not aware of both terms, but the distinctions in legal articles and advertisements aren’t always clear. It can be helpful to gain some understanding of the background of these practice areas, especially if you need the assistance of a Maritime lawyer.

The Background of Admiralty and Maritime Law

The admiralty law the U.S. courts use evolved from English law. This is due to the fact that the colonies once had vice admiralty courts with authority that came from England. The United States switched to giving the federal courts jurisdiction over these practice areas after the country won its independence. The tricky part is that there is no definition of the terms of admiralty law in the Constitution. The courts had to determine what the terms meant by their rulings over the years and this helped to remove much of the differences between maritime and admiralty law.

Historically, admiralty law was limited to those disputes that involve contracts and torts on the high seas. Torts, otherwise known as legal wrongs, are a specific area of law that often has been kept strictly separate from other areas. The phrase “high seas” is in reference to oceans that are beyond a country’s territorial jurisdiction. The United States had to change things in order to apply the law to matters occurring on inland waters since England has no inland waters.

Maritime law came about to take on other varieties of legal disputes, both on the high seas and other navigable waters (those bodies of water that function as highways for commerce and are located between states or countries). Though maritime and admiralty law once were distinct, this has since faded and the U.S. courts consider them interchangeable terms.

A Federal Matter

Federal courts deal almost exclusively with legal issues that involve admiralty and maritime matters. Still, there have been instances when states choose to take on certain cases. They were required to use federal law for such disputes so that decisions would be consistent, and it would help the uniform body of law evolve to avoid confusion over jurisdiction later on. Going through a state court benefits a party in that it allows access to legal remedies that aren’t available with federal law.

For instance, if a large number of goods were stolen from a ship while on the water just off the coast, those in charge of said ship could bring it to the state court to have federal law applied. This process may go more quickly than having to take it to a federal court as long as there are no outstanding circumstances that hold things up.

It’s in your best interest to seek out a Maritime lawyer if you have received an injury, had a theft or some other tort occur while out on a body of water. Even if you’re confused about the course of action to take a professional who knows the ins-and-outs of this practice area can assist you.