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A Guide to the Suits in Admiralty Act

July 01, 2022

A Guide to the Suits in Admiralty Act

For many years, someone who was injured in an accident that was caused by the negligent operation of a federal government vessel could not file a lawsuit against the government due to sovereign immunity. However, the Congress realized that the federal government should not be immune from suit for negligently injuring people. As a result, the Suits in Admiralty Act was passed to provide a path for people to pursue financial recovery if they were injured in an accident with a government vessel. If you have been involved in such an accident, you should speak with a maritime accident attorney about your legal rights under the SIAA. 

What Is the Suits in Admiralty Act?

The Suits in Admiralty Act, a statute enacted in 1920, permits the filing of civil lawsuits for compensation against the federal government or a federal agency for injuries, damages, and losses that may be caused by the negligent operation of a government-owned vessel. Typically, the federal government enjoys sovereign immunity from monetary civil lawsuits. The Suits in Admiralty Act therefore acts as a limited waiver of the federal government’s sovereign immunity for claims of damage caused by a government vessel. 

Who Can Be Subject to a Suits in Admiralty Act Claim?

A Suits in Admiralty Act claim can be filed against any federal government agency that operates sea vessels. Examples of agencies that can have a Suits in Admiralty Act lawsuit filed against them include:

  • U.S. Navy
  • U.S. Coast Guard
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration & NOAA Commissioned Corps
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  • National Marine Fisheries Service
  • U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Any federal agency may be subject to a lawsuit under the SIAA when the plaintiff bringing the lawsuit would have the legal right to do so against a public party. However, the government has the same limited liability as other ship owners under federal maritime law. In addition, government owned vessels cannot be arrested or be subject to an in rem action, and jury trials under the SIAA are not permitted. 

What Compensation Can You Recover in a Suits in Admiralty Act Case?

In a Suits in Admiralty Act claim, you may be entitled to financial recovery for losses that you sustained in an accident with a government vessel. This may include:

  • Property damage, such as damage to your own vessel caused by a collision or other incident with a government vessel
  • Medical and rehabilitation expenses to treat injuries caused by an accident resulting from the negligent operation of a government vessel
  • Long-term care expenses if injuries result in disabilities or other impairments
  • Lost income due to an inability to work while recovering from injuries
  • Loss of future earning potential and employment benefits due to permanent disability from gainful employment
  • Pain and suffering, as well as reduced quality or enjoyment of life

How Long Do You Have to File a Lawsuit under the Suits in Admiralty Act?

Any claim under the Suits in Admiralty Act must be filed in court within two years of the date that the underlying accident occurred, pursuant to the statute of limitations. Filing an untimely lawsuit can result in the government filing a motion to dismiss your case. In addition, any claims under the SIAA are subject to a 120-day claim review period (where the government may choose to accept or deny an injured party’s claim) which must be fulfilled before a lawsuit can be filed. Therefore, starting the claim review period right before the expiration of the two-year statute of limitations may lead to the waiver of your claim if the government denies your claim following review and the statute of limitations has expired before you can file suit in court. 

What Are the Differences between the Suits in Admiralty Act and the Public Vessels Act?

The Suits in Admiralty Act and the Public Vessels Act, while both allowing civil lawsuits against the federal government, differ in the scope of persons and entities that each act is intended to cover. The Public Vessels Act is broadly designed to protect persons who are working on or contracted to perform services aboard a government-owned or chartered vessel. In addition, the PVA expressly provides protection for both U.S. and foreign workers on government vessels. Conversely, private individuals and entities that are involved in accidents with government vessels would typically file claims under the Suits in Admiralty Act. 

How an Attorney Can Help You with a Suits in Admiralty Act Case

A Suits in Admiralty Act case is subject to certain special requirements and procedures; a misstep can cause you to lose out on important rights to compensation. A maritime accident attorney can help with pursuing claims for financial recovering from the government in a SIAA case by:

  • Reviewing the details of your situation to determine whether your case arises under the SIAA, or under another federal maritime act such as the Public Vessels Act or the Jones Act. 
  • Gathering evidence from the accident or incident to be able to put together an effective, persuasive claim on your behalf
  • Documenting your past, ongoing, and future losses and needs to ensure that you receive fair and full compensation
  • Ensuring that your claims against the government are timely filed, including making sure that your administrative claim is filed early enough to pursue a lawsuit if necessary
  • Advocating on your behalf in negotiations or in court to fight for the best possible result in your case. 

Reach Out to The Law Offices of Preston Easley for a Free Case Evaluation to Discuss Your Legal Options under the Suits in Admiralty Act

If you have suffered harm or loss due to an accident involving a government-owned vessel, you may have the right under the Suits in Admiralty Act to recover compensation from the federal government. Contact The Law Offices of Preston Easley today for a free, no-obligation consultation to speak with a maritime accident attorney about your legal options and the process of pursuing a case for financial recovery under the SIAA.

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Preston Easley is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. He served five years of active duty as a Naval officer — three years as a deck officer on a fast frigate and two years as a patrol boat skipper. Mr. Easley also served aboard a tank landing ship in the reserves.

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