Maritime Law Torts – what is the definition and scope of tort?

What is Maritime Law Tort?

Maritime law torts is a term covering cases where injury, loss or damage is caused to a person or their interests by another party’s action or negligence. The word “tort” derives from a Latinate Middle English word meaning “injury”. In this light, maritime tort applies to cases where injury, loss or damage is caused to a person or their interests in a maritime setting. This gives maritime tort law a very broad range of coverage, particularly as no malice or premeditation is required to designate liability under the tenets of tort law.

Under maritime law, by its very nature, cases will generally be brought against a corporation rather than an individual, as the carriage of persons or goods carries with it an element of responsibility for their safety. Damage to goods can, and usually does, occur as a result of inadequately secure storage on the part of the carrier and leaves them liable to face a claim for damages. In the case of Canal Barge Co. vs Torco Oil Co. heard in July 2000 however, the plaintiff – a shipping company which had chartered its vessel to a company for the transportation of a cargo of oil brought a case when the cargo left a heavy residue. As the defendant’s negligent loading of their product was proven in court, the case was upheld and Torco were found liable for material damages.

Crear vs Omega Protein Case

The most interesting cases in maritime tort law are often not the more straightforward ones. In the Crear vs Omega Protein case of 2004, the plaintiffs brought a case against the Omega Protein corporation when former Omega employee Obedean Crear Jr. – suffering from mental problems in the wake of a head injury suffered when an improperly-fixed stern pole fell upon him – killed his grandmother.

The plaintiffs argued that Omega’s negligence in failing to affix the pole constituted an instance of contributory negligence. Omega argued for their part that they could not have foreseen that Crear Jr. would commit murder as a result of their mistake, using in evidence the testimony of several of the plaintiffs who agreed that they never expected such an outcome. The court found in Omega’s favour – explaining that it would be unfair to deem that Omega’s responsibility for Crear Jr’s injury extended to culpability for the killing (an act for which Crear Jr. was tried for murder but found not guilty by reason of insanity.

The above two cases are examples of the breadth of cases which fall under the heading of Maritime Tort law. Both are fascinating in that they are not the straightforward personal injury or property damage cases brought against a carrying organisation for damage occasioned upon the company’s property.