Do I Need a Personal Injury Lawyer or a Maritime Attorney?

I was injured last year in a boating accident, and I am having problems dealing with the boat owner’s insurance company. I decided to contact a lawyer, and a friend referred me to a personal injury attorney who had represented him a few years ago. When I met with the attorney, I learned that he has no experience at all with maritime law. Should I talk to a maritime lawyer instead?
It’s always a good idea to interview a number of attorneys when considering a lawsuit, and you may have trouble finding someone with all of the skills that you are seeking for a particular case.

The accident described by our reader took place on navigable waters, and as such it may be subject to federal maritime jurisdiction and the personal injury lawsuit could be filed in federal court. An experienced maritime attorney may, in fact, be better suited to handle a case like this, since maritime legal practice includes many specialized rules and procedures that may not be familiar to other attorneys.

Those procedures may, for example, include the arrest of a vessel, limitations on the amount and type of damages that may be complained of, the question of whether the case will be heard by a jury or instead decided entirely by a judge, and even the question of whether to file the lawsuit in state court or federal court.

After considering the specialized rules and procedures, the issues in a maritime personal injury case may be similar to the issues faced when dealing with an accident that occurred ashore. The two most important issues in most personal injury lawsuits are damages and liability.

The term “damages” refers to the nature and extent of the harm suffered by the injured party. Personal injury lawyers are generally very skilled at evaluating a patient’s medical records, lost earnings, pain and suffering, and other damages, and at presenting this information to a jury. This aspect of a personal injury case will be similar in most cases, regardless of whether the accident occurred ashore or at sea.

The injuries suffered by a plaintiff in a lawsuit are, however, only a part of the equation.  The question of liability must also be addressed.

Who was at fault? Does the injured party himself bear some level of responsibility? The judge and jury will frequently rely upon the testimony of expert witnesses to make that determination.

In a maritime personal injury case, for example, the plaintiff’s attorney may rely upon the testimony of a retired Coast Guard investigator to allocate fault between the parties. An experienced maritime attorney is more likely to have access to these types of professionals than a land-based personal injury attorney.

We should also note that maritime practice is itself very diverse. Maritime personal injury is a big part of it, but the practice of maritime law also includes cases involving damaged cargo aboard merchant ships, pollution, salvage, lien enforcement, Coast Guard regulation, commercial fisheries and more. As such, any search for a maritime attorney will need to consider the particular areas of maritime law that are relevant to each particular case.

In the end, our reader’s search for an attorney to handle her case will depend mostly upon the facts of her particular case. The attorney who was referred to her may, in fact, be well qualified, but she may find that an experienced maritime personal injury attorney would be better able to evaluate the unique facts and specialized areas of law that are relevant to an injury at sea.


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