The United States owns, charters, and operates numerous vessels that are not operated by the U.S. Navy or the U.S. Coast Guard. These vessels include containerships, naval support vessels, research vessels, oil tankers, tugs, barges, and passenger vessels. Involvement of the United States, its personnel, and its cargo aboard these vessels creates a complex area of the law.
At issue whenever a U.S.-owned or U.S.-operated vessel causes injury is the concept of sovereign immunity. Sovereign immunity is based on a very old common law concept: “the King could do no wrong.” Under the modern concept of sovereign immunity, the United States remains immune from suits unless Congress specifically waives sovereign immunity. The most common example of waiving the federal government’s sovereign immunity is the Federal Tort Claims Act.
Congress has also waived sovereign immunity of the United States in certain instances under maritime law. The Public Vessels Act (PVA), codified 46 U.S.C. 31101, permits certain claimants damaged by or aboard United States-operated vessels to sue the United States to recover compensation for their injuries. The Suits in Admiralty Act (SIAA), codified as46 U.S.C. 30901, allows an individual who was injured due to negligence involving a public vessel to sue the United States.
Seamen employed by the United States may be able to sue under the PVA or SIAA. Some examples may include:
Civilian merchant mariners
Seamen working on a U.S. naval ship
Mariners aboard a Military Sealift Command vessel
Crewmembers aboard vessels owned and operated by the United States
If you or a family member was injured or killed aboard a U.S. owned or operated vessel, time is of the essence. The United States may argue that the statute of limitations under the PVA and SIAA is only two years. And other even shorter reporting and filing requirements may be needed against state and federal agencies.
If you or a loved one has been injured or tragically killed on or involving a ship owned or operated by the United States, you may have a claim. Sovereign immunity is a complex area of the law requiring seasoned maritime counsel. With years of experience in court and on the water, maritime attorney Adam Deitz stands ready to assist. Call (253) 600-2531 for a free consultation. The firm proudly serves mariner clients in Washington, Oregon, New York, Connecticut, Alaska, and nationwide.