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Coastguard Negligence: When Seafarers Are Better Off Amongst The Flotsam

From antiquity to the modern era, the sea has cemented its place in human history as a highway of commerce, as well as a source of almost divine pleasure. Yet, we have a fickle relationship with the oceanic depths, and at times seamen and women face some of the most sudden and frightening dangers our planet has to offer.

Cyclonic winds, white-capped waves and potentially dangerous equipment can bring down even the hardiest sailors. But, when maritime disaster strikes, most imperiled individuals fail to recognize another common threat: their rescuers.

The Coast Guard may be liable for injuries caused by botched rescues

In waters both domestic and international, the U.S. Coast Guard routinely carries out white-knuckle rescue missions, often under the harshest of conditions. Sometimes, things beyond their control cause difficulties, and people get hurt.

However, the misconduct of Coast Guard personnel may also be directly responsible for irreparable harm. As a general rule, Seattle maritime accident attorneys can help injured parties collect compensation from the Coast Guard, if it can be shown that negligence in conducting a rescue put the rescuee in an even worse position than he or she had been in previously.

Legal actions against the Coast Guard

Typically, the Coast Guard is under no affirmative obligation to render aid to a distressed individual. However, once Coast Guard authorities decide to take on a rescue operation, they must carry it out with reasonable care or face the legal consequences.

A breach of this duty of care can arise from any lapse in proper search and rescue protocol. In one particularly egregious case, a woman's husband sued the Coast guard after his wife plummeted to her death out of a Coast Guard helicopter after not being properly strapped in.

In one of the most common scenarios which may give rise to Coast Guard liability, civilian vessels in the vicinity of a distressed craft cease their rescue efforts once a Coast Guard ship appears, "leaving it to the experts" so to speak. If after subsuming the role of rescuer, an undue delay by the Coast Guard causes injury or death, then the rescuees would likely have legal recourse, since they would have been better served by other rescuers who only ceased their efforts because of the Coast Guard's arrival.

The Suits in Admiralty Act

Lawsuits against the Coast Guard for injury to persons or property damage generally must be brought under a federal statute known as the "Suits in Admiralty Act." The Suits in Admiralty Act is a limited waiver of the federal government's sovereign immunity from civil lawsuits in certain maritime contexts. In other words, it empowers parties injured by the Coast Guard to demand compensation. Additionally, the Suits in Admiralty Act simplifies rules regarding where and when an injured plaintiff may file a civil suit concerning a government owned ship.

While the Suits in Admiralty Act provides those injured at sea with some important rights, it also lays out certain specific limitations. For instance, Coast Guard negligence suits under the Act must be brought within two years of the incident in question, and claims under the Act are tried without a jury, making a skilled maritime attorney who fully understands the law an especially important asset to injured plaintiffs. If you or a loved one has been harmed by Coast Guard rescuers, contact an experienced admiralty law attorney as soon as possible to ensure you receive the just compensation you deserve.