Article Courtesy of Jack O’Donnell, New Haven, CT
Anyone involved in a maritime accident should hire an experienced attorney who can help them decide the best course of action to take. Maritime accidents are very complicated to handle, and any personal injury lawyer will not be able to handle a maritime injury case. Maritime law addresses situations that arise in the waters, but different kind of maritime accidents have different claims. Before you contact a maritime personal injury lawyer, here are some of the things to consider.
Identify if your claim involves personal injury or property loss. You also need to know if your loss originated on a private or commercial vessel and where the vessel was operating at the time of the loss. You will have to discuss all these points with your attorney to help them understand what laws apply to your claim. In other cases, the accident may involve a cruise ship or a private boat. It is important to know all this because losses in maritime accidents arise from maritime contract law, just like they do in land-based transportation.
When hiring a maritime attorney, ask questions about the attorneys’ experience representing similar claims in the past. The attorney or law firm must also understand the Jones Act for injury claims as it applies to maritime accidents. See if you can get references for the lawyer or firm from past clients. Once you have shortlisted a couple of maritime personal injury lawyers or law firms, get in touch with them and explain your case. Is the attorney reachable, and do they return your calls in a timely manner? Have they proposed a plan for handling your case? Have they informed you what to expect and how long the case might take? A good attorney should give you all your options, not just the options that suit the firm. A good maritime injury lawyer will understand a number of different kinds of cases, such as those involving injuries to offshore oil rig workers, shipping contract disputes, boating accidents, injuries and collisions, damage to cargo or loss of cargo as well as maritime insurance claims.
Your attorney will help you gather important documents and will find evidence to support your claim. The attorney may suggest trying to settle the claim out-of-court; not all cases are 100% “slam dunks”, and in some cases getting something is better than the risk of getting nothing. Many injury attorneys work on a ‘contingency’ basis; meaning, if you don’t win they don’t get paid. If and when you do win an injury award at trial or settle for an our-of-court amount, the attorney will typically take 30% for their fees and costs. Make sure to have an agreement in writing with the attorney you hire outlining what fees will be added on to the 30% contingency fee and what will be included.