Frequently Asked Questions1. What is Admiralty and Maritime Law?
Maritime Law is another name for Admiralty Law. The terms are used together or separately. The law in this area is derived from federal statutes and hundreds of years of cases decided primarily by courts throughout the United States, though Admiralty law has its roots in English Law. Admiralty and Maritime Law is intended to be uniform throughout the United States. In our global world, there are occasionally international conventions and treaties that apply. Most non-maritime cases are governed by state law, which differs from state to state. However, the result under Admiralty and Maritime Law should be the same whether your case happens in Florida or any other state.
2. Can any lawyer handle my case?
If your case involves Maritime law, you should hire a Maritime lawyer. There are a number of unique features to maritime law. Among these are vessel arrest, liens, and limitation of liability, to name just a few. Statutes of limitations are typically different from, and often shorter than, those encountered outside of Maritime Law. These can catch the unwary and end your case before it is even started. Several different types of Maritime matters are exclusively filed in the federal court. You cannot, for example, proceed against a vessel itself in state court, but this can be an important remedy in Admiralty. If you mention that you need a vessel arrested to a lawyer who does not do these cases, they would probably not know it was possible.
3. What does it mean to be a Board Certified Admiralty and Maritime Law attorney?
The Florida Bar maintains a testing and continuing education requirement in several different specialties. One of those specialties is Admiralty and Maritime Law. There are approximately 60 Admiralty and Maritime Board Certified lawyers in the State of Florida. Mr. Sutter is one of those. To be Board Certified, a lawyer must pass a test provided by The Florida Bar, must have been practicing in the area of Admiralty and Maritime Law for at least 5 years, a large percentage of their cases must be in area of Admiralty and Maritime Law, and they must be considered by a peer group of Board Certified lawyers designated by the Bar, to help assure that lawyer is worthy of being designated as Board Certified.
4. What is a plaintiff, what is a defendant; does the state attorney have anything to do with my case?
The plaintiff is the party who is bringing the lawsuit, and who claims injury or damage done by another. The defendant is the party resisting those claims. In a proper case, defendants may present counterclaims in which they become counter-plaintiff's, etc.. Generally, the State Attorney has nothing to do with a civil case. One particularly notable exception to this is the circumstance in which a party was operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In cases in which our own clients may have criminal liability, separate counsel for those issues is required.
5. What does an injured client have to do in the litigation process?
The injured client must help the attorney in putting together the case. During the initial interviews, we will have a detailed discussion about the circumstances of your injury, your medical treatment to that point and going forward, and the anticipated testimony from any witnesses. As a party, you will be required to give a deposition after the case is filed. A deposition is testimony under oath where you will be asked questions by the Defendant's attorney. The client must also help respond to written questions from the Defendant known as interrogatories, and must assist in gathering any documents that the lawyer needs to prove the case. The client must attend the mediation conference where the parties attempt to settle the case. If mediation is unsuccessful, the client must attend the trial.
6. How long is it between the time I sign a contract until the time the case is over?
Typically, a client signs a contract with the attorney and the attorney takes a month or two to put together all of the facts of the case. The attorney will communicate with the Defendants to see if an out of court settlement can be reached. If a settlement cannot be reached, the case is filed. It usually takes about a year from the date a case is filed until the date of the trial. Most of that time is taken up by what is known as the discovery process, in which both sides of the dispute try to learn as much about the evidence as possible.
7. How do I pay my lawyers?
Personal injury cases are normally handled on a contingency fee basis. Typical contingency fee agreements are 33 % fee if the case is settled prior to being filed in court and 40 % once the case is filed with the court. The client is responsible for costs of the case which include expert witness fees, filing fees, photocopies, postage, etc. The attorney will normally advance the costs of the case; once the case is settled or a verdict is reached, the client will reimburse the attorney for the cost of litigation. If there is no recovery, the client does not pay any fees or costs.
8. Where will suit be filed?
The case will usually be filed where the accident happened or where the Defendant has a place of business. Some can be filed where the Plaintiff resides. A personal injury case will typically be filed in the State Court that is closest to the Plaintiff's home, where the court can obtain jurisdiction over the Defendant. As noted elsewhere on this website, some cases must be filed in the Federal District Court.
9. Can a seaman sue his employer?
Yes, a seaman can sue his employer under the Jones Act. The seaman must prove that the employer was negligent or that a co-worker was negligent and that this negligence, at least in part, contributed to the injury.
10. Can a seaman sue his employer for the unseaworthiness of the vessel?
Yes, a seaman can sue his employer for the vessel being unseaworthy. This is what is known as strict liability. The seaman does not have to prove that the employer knew or should have known about the defective condition that caused the injury. The seaman must only prove that a defective condition existed or that a crew member did something wrong and caused him to be injured. This is easier than proving negligence.
11. What is maintenance and cure?
Maintenance is the money that is owed for living expenses by the employer of a Jones Act seaman who has fallen ill or has been injured while in the service of the vessel. Note that it does not have to be a large ship for the Jones Act to apply. The seaman does not have to prove negligence in order to be entitled to maintenance and cure. Maintenance is the amount of money it costs to live on shore; such as, food, housing, electricity, etc. Cure is the medical bills that are reasonable and necessary as a result of the injury or illness. Both maintenance and cure are paid until the doctor states that the seaman is at maximum medical cure, meaning that the seaman's condition will not get any better.
12. How do the courts treat these seamen cases?
The courts have a special duty to look out for seamen. In Maritime cases the seaman is said to be a 'Ward of the Court,' and the Court has a particular duty to look out for the seaman because of the nature of the work and life at sea. This means that the court hearing a Maritime case will be more favorable to a seaman than other types of injured parties. This does not necessarily mean that a seaman recovers more money, but it does mean that the court take special care that the seaman is not abused by the employer.
13. Can a seaman get maintenance and cure benefits at the same time he is suing his employer for Jones Act negligence and unseaworthiness?
Yes, generally when a seaman files a complaint, there are 3 counts. The first count is for the Jones Act negligence of the employer. The second count is for the unseaworthiness of the vessel that caused the injury. The third count is for maintenance and cure, if all maintenance and cure has not been properly paid. If the court finds that the seaman was entitled to maintenance and cure that was unreasonably withheld, the court can award attorneys' fees to the seaman for having to go to court to force the employer to pay this obligation.
14. What is a longshoreman and what is different about a longshoreman's case?
Generally, a longshoreman is a person who works loading and unloading vessels, or repairing vessels while dockside. Their rights differ from Jones act seaman in that they are handled more like a Workmen's Compensation system, under the Longshore and Harbor Worker's Compensation act (LHWCA). This office does not handle the compensation for longshoreman found under the administrative procedures of that act. Mr. Sutter does handle what are known as 905(b) cases. These are cases in which a third-party, that is, other than the employer or co-employee, caused the injury. Typically this means the crew of a vessel or a defect in a vessel caused the injury. In these cases, a longshoreman may sue the third-party without waiving his Longshore compensation benefits.
15. Who will actually handle my case if I hire Mr. Sutter to represent me?
Your case will be handled by Howard Sutter. Your case will not be assigned to an associate or paralegal. The biggest complaint about lawyers is failing to communicate. That will not happen with this office. If you retain Mr. Sutter, your calls will be taken when you call or will be returned promptly, if I am on another line or out of the office at the time of your call.