Can I File Suit Against a Sea Vessel?
July 05, 2022
If you were hurt in an accident involving a sea vessel that was caused by the negligence of the vessel’s owner or operator, you normally might file a lawsuit against the owner/operator to recover compensation. However, various circumstances might make it infeasible to file suit against the person or entity that owns or operates the vessel, such as being unable to locate the owner/operator, not being able to obtain jurisdiction over a foreign owner/operator, or the owner/operator not having sufficient financial resources to compensate you in a lawsuit. In these circumstances, you might also have the option of filing a lawsuit against the vessel itself. While most people are familiar with filing lawsuits against people and corporations, suits can also be filed against property. However, the process of filing a lawsuit against a sea vessel is not quite the same as filing suit against the person or company that owns the vessel. This makes it critical to work with an experienced maritime accident lawyer to ensure that your rights are advocated for.
How Do You File a Lawsuit Against a Sea Vessel?
A lawsuit against a sea vessel is typically called an admiralty action in rem. An action is considered “in rem” when the suit is filed against a piece of property, such as a ship. This differs from a traditional lawsuit, called an in personam action, in which the suit is filed against a person or entity. To file an in rem suit against a sea vessel, a claimant will usually first need to have a maritime lien on the ship. As with all other kinds of admiralty claims, the lawsuit must be filed in federal court. If the vessel is located in U.S. territorial waters, the suit typically must be filed in the federal district court covering the waters where the vessel is located.
Once an in rem lawsuit is filed, the court will confirm the validity of the claimant’s maritime lien and issue an order to “arrest,” or seize the vessel. The claimant is required to make a cash deposit to cover the costs of arresting the vessel and maintaining security and insurance. The vessel’s owner is entitled to a prompt hearing in which the owner may contest the validity of the lien and appropriateness of the seizure. The vessel owner or operator may also choose to reach an agreement with the claimant to supply a bond to have the vessel released. If the vessel’s owner or operator fails to object to the seizure or does not post a bond or other security, the court can order the vessel sold by the U.S. Marshal.
When Would You File a Suit Against a Vessel?
You might choose to pursue a lawsuit against a sea vessel when the vessel’s owner is responsible for losses you sustained due to an accident or incident. An in rem action against a sea vessel can be pursued either alone or in conjunction with an in personam action against the vessel’s owner or operator. Pursuing an in rem action may be an option to pursue when you cannot locate the vessel’s owner or operator to serve them with a lawsuit. An in rem suit might also be your only option for financial recovery when the vessel’s owner or operator may not have sufficient financial assets to compensate you for your losses, and the vessel itself may be the only substantial asset the owner or operator has.
What Happens If You Obtain a Judgment Against a Sea Vessel?
If you win an in rem action against a sea vessel, you may collect your judgment from the proceeds if the vessel was sold, or from the bond or other security that the vessel owner or operator posted to have the vessel released. The compensation that can be recovered in an in rem action is limited to the amount of your maritime lien. But the lien will be discharged even if the compensation you obtain does not cover the amount of the lien. However, if you pursue an in rem action in conjunction with an in personam action against the vessel owner or operator, you will have the option of pursuing a deficiency judgment against the owner/operator if the security/bond or proceeds from the sale of the vessel are not enough to cover your losses.
How Can a Maritime Attorney Help Me in a Suit Against a Sea Vessel?
Pursuing a lawsuit against a sea vessel rather than a shipowner or shipping company can be a complex process that might not always represent the best option for recovering compensation. That is why you should turn to a maritime law attorney who can help you in an in rem action against a vessel by:
- Evaluating the facts and circumstances of your case to determine whether filing a lawsuit against a sea vessel represents a good option for recovering compensation on your behalf
- Ensuring you understand the process of and your obligations in an in rem suit against a vessel.
- Obtaining the necessary maritime lien to authorize you to proceed in a suit against a vessel
- Filing your lawsuit in court and representing you during the litigation proceedings, including court hearings to arrest/seize the vessel or to establish a bond or security for the vessel’s release
- Advocating on your behalf in court and at trial to secure a judgment in your favor to collect from the bond/security or proceeds from the sale of the vessel
- Pursuing a deficiency judgment against the vessel owner/operator if you also pursued an in personam lawsuit against them as well
Contact The Law Offices of Preston Easley for a Free Consultation to Discuss Your Legal Options for Recovering Compensation in a Maritime Accident
If you were injured in a maritime accident, you may have various legal options for pursuing financial recovery. Reach out to a maritime accident attorney from The Law Offices of Preston Easley today for a free, no-obligation case evaluation to learn more about the process of filing a lawsuit against a maritime vessel to get the compensation you deserve.