Admiralty & Maritime

Admiralty & Maritime

Hamilton, Miller & Birthisel provides legal counsel in all areas of admiralty and maritime law. In both litigation and transactions, we represent vessel owners, charterers, operators, and insurers in markets ranging from the world’s largest passenger cruise and cargo lines to privately-owned yachts and recreational boating interests.  Our core commercial clients are tug and barge companies, marine construction companies, cruise lines, terminal operators, shipyards, and vessel operating and non-vessel operating common carriers.

Our broad marine insurance representation covers the entire waterfront; from Protection and Indemnity clubs, insuring the world’s largest tonnage, to domestic underwriters protecting the hundreds of thousands of recreational boaters throughout the U.S. and the Caribbean. As part of our full-service maritime practice, we provide daily advice to our clients on matters involving personal injury and wrongful death and property and casualty losses; and offer a wide-range of commercially related services including vessel documentation and flag-state compliance assistance, advice and drafting of commercial documents for the purchase and sale of vessels for owners and marine lenders, and the preparation of charter parties, licensing and vendor agreements, and all documents related to passenger vessel operations.

Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Defense

When your company is involved in a personal injury or wrongful death case, including those involving multiple plaintiffs or catastrophic injuries, it is imperative that your maritime legal counsel have experience, knowledge and the ability to act quickly and responsively. We have successfully defended claims brought by ship crew members and other maritime employees or their personal representatives under the Jones Act, General Maritime Law, Death on the High Seas Act, and the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. We have also been engaged to defend claims brought by passengers against cruise lines, excursion operators, charter fishing operators, and private vessel owners and operators.

Recreational Boating and Personal Watercraft Accidents

We are experienced in the investigation and defense of claims arising from boating accidents. This includes collisions, vessel fires, sinking, and weather-related accidents. Claims defended include wrongful death, personal injury, and property damage. We also defend vessel owners, operators, and manufacturers against claims involving recreational diving, para-sailing, water skiing, and personal watercraft accidents, as well as other accidents arising from recreational watercraft activities. 

Cargo Claims

We primarily represent carriers and their underwriters in claims for lost or damaged cargo. Our expertise includes negotiating and litigating claims for damage, theft, or loss involving dry and liquid cargo, bulk and container ships, and supertankers during transport, loading, unloading, and intermodal transportation. We also provide counsel in establishing and implementing cargo claim handling procedures, drafting and evaluating bills of lading and other cargo documents. We assist our cargo insurer clients with the drafting of cargo policy language and coverage opinions, as well as representation in subrogation and recovery actions.

Contracts & Commercial Documents

Our attorneys have worked with major passenger cruise lines, charter companies, steamship companies and other maritime businesses to draft maritime contracts, general business contracts, and commercial documents. We have assisted in the preparation of voyage charters, time charters and demise or “bareboat” charters, and participated in arbitration of charter party claims. We have drafted bills of lading, towing agreements, charter contracts, passenger tickets, terminal agreements, maritime collective bargaining agreements, salvage agreements, marine transportation agreements, concessionaire agreements, maritime employment contracts, docking contracts, storage agreements, and marine service contracts of all types.

Charter Party Disputes

Our firm has represented owners, charterers and sub-charterers in negotiating charters and in arbitration and litigation. We are experienced in drafting all types of marine contracts including charter contracts, passage tickets, terminal agreements, bills of lading, towage contracts and maritime collective bargaining agreements.

Environmental Claims

Our attorneys are experienced in representing vessel owners and governmental interests in collisions, groundings, and other major marine casualties.  One of our founding partners, Chip Birthisel, is a retired U.S. Coast Guard officer, and served as lead counsel on many oil-spill, reef damage, and hazardous material cases while serving as Trial Counsel at the U.S. Department of Justice Admiralty and Aviation Litigation Section, in Washington, DC.  Our representation is comprehensive and includes prevention, investigation and salvage, environmental damage assessments, clean-up and recovery operations, expense auditing, mediation, and litigation. We also assist our clients in environmental compliance system evaluation, drafting and implementation of procedures and manuals, response planning, and environmental compliance planning and management. We routinely interface with state, federal and foreign regulatory agencies, as well as criminal defense attorneys in the defense of criminal prosecutions for alleged violations of environmental statutes and regulations.

Marine Insurance

We provide our marine insurance clients with coverage opinions, as well as representation in state and federal court on behalf of underwriters’ interests. The firm responds to claims of insureds made to the Florida Department of Insurance and deals with regulatory matters before that department on behalf of insurers. Through years of working with London and domestic marine insurers, we have developed a thorough understanding of the nuances of marine insurance practice and policies. Our clients frequently request our assistance in drafting, reviewing and analyzing policy language for marine insurance policies of all types. We are also frequently called upon to assist our clients in adjusting and settling first party hull and machinery insurance claims.

Maritime Financing, Bankruptcy & Liens

Our attorneys have assisted clients in all types of maritime transactions and financial matters. We have experience representing vessel owners, lending institutions, and trustees in maritime bankruptcy proceedings, foreclosures and petitory actions. We assist our clients with drafting, executing, filing and foreclosure of preferred ships mortgages and other maritime liens. Through years of experience, we have developed the necessary resources to facilitate vessel arrests throughout the Southeastern United States and the Caribbean, including liaison relationships with local counsel and substitute custodians.

Maritime Product Liability

Our attorneys have represented designers, manufacturers, distributors, and their insurers in a variety of product liability and warranty claims. We also counsel our clients on product literature and warranty drafting