The purpose of this article is to explain a few of the pitfalls in recovering from a vessel that has caused an oil spill in U.S. waters. This article is meant to help the nonmaritime legal practitioner to identify certain universal legal issues that are likely to arise in any case in which a vessel has caused or contributed to an oil spill.
Vessel: A Legal Entity
The first issue to consider is basic information about the offending vessel.
In most instances, your client will know the name of the vessel and some information about its owners and operators. If not, then you may be required to track down the vessel.
The identify and location of the vessel is of paramount importance because, under U.S. maritime law, a vessel can be considered a tortfeasor, separate and apart from the vessel owner or operator. Therefore, a plaintiff can sue the vessel itself under the court’s in rem jurisdiction, as well as the vessel owner and operator under the court’s in personam jurisdiction.