5 of the Weirdest Things about Admiralty Law

Unclear Course:  5 of the Weirdest Things about Admiralty Law

Admiralty law is one of the most convoluted and specific of all the different types of law.  That’s because there’s no one clear body of law that encompasses all of the different scenarios presented by admiralty law.  Some practitioners focus on trade, commerce and contracts.  Others focus on cruise ship liability.  Still others work with oil rig employees or contractors.  Overall, the practice of admiralty law is one of the more eclectic legal specialties.  Here, however, are five of the strangest things about admiralty law.

  1. Maritime law is technically different from admiralty law. Although the terms are frequently used interchangeably, maritime law and admiralty law are historically different bodies of law.  Admiralty law was traditionally limited to torts (legal wrongs done to a person or entity) and contracts on the high seas.  So if you tripped, fell, and broke your leg on a broken stairwell on the high seas, you’d pursue a claim based on admiralty law.  Maritime law historically referred to all other legal disputes that could arise on the high seas.  The terms, although used interchangeably today, had historically different meanings.
  2. Your citizenship could be a matter of technicalities if you are born on international waters.  If you’re on a cruise and go into labor unexpectedly out in the ocean, the citizenship of your child could (depending upon the country of your origin, your nationality and the laws to which it adheres) depend on the type of flag your ship is flying.  Your child could technically end up a citizen of country foreign to you.  Your child could be a citizen of the flag that your ship is flying.  
  3. Contract is king.  You are from North Carolina.  You board a ship in Miami.  You are injured on a waterslide on the ship that was poorly maintained.  Where do you sue?  What law applies?  You aren’t thinking about these things when you buy your cruise ticket, printed in the smallest yet legally tight language you will ever see.  Your ticket (or boarding pass) will clearly state that by accepting your ticket, you agree to have any and all claims you may wish to bring against the ship litigated in Federal Court in Miami, Florida.
  4. Liability is limited.  Super limited.  What is your recourse against the cruise ship if you sign up for a relaxing massage but end up getting a masseuse with a vengeance who injures you with the roughest, most painful massage of your life?  Nothing.  The cruise line has deemed most onboard service providers as independent contractors.  Therefore, your bone-breaking massage therapist is not their employee and the cruise line cannot be held liable for the torture session.
  5. High crimes on the high seas.  There are no state or federal police officers on cruise ships.  Yes, there is private security hired by the cruise line, but no state agents with police power.  Who decides whether to detain or incarcerate a passenger suspected of criminal activity while the ship is in international waters?  The captain of the ship.