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John W. Merriam

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Main: 206.729.5252
Fax: 206.729.1012
Toll Free: 877.800.1007

4005 20th Ave W #110
Seattle, Washington 98199

John Merriam worked his way through college and law school by serving as an unlicensed seaman in the U.S. merchant marine over the course of 12 years. He worked aboard 17 freighters and tankers in all departments—deck, engine and steward—in 12 different job classifications. John’s law school tuition was paid with a scholarship from the Seafarers International Union.

Before and during the time he was shipping out and going to school, John had 19 other full-time jobs in eight states ranging from carpenter to cab driver, from roustabout in the oil fields of New Mexico to factory hand on a production line. John was a downhill ski instructor on weekends, during most winters for 20 years.

John passed the bar in 1982 and joined a small firm—first as associate and then as partner, over the course of 13 years. The firm was a general practice handling a all manner of cases, with an emphasis on maritime personal injury.

In 1996 John started his own firm, with practice restricted to the representation of maritime claimants for wages and injury. Shortly thereafter he started working together on maritime cases with another sole practitioner, Gordon Webb. John and Gordon continue to work on cases together to this day.

John was Chairman for the Maritime Section of the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association (now known as the Washington State Association for Justice), 1993-94. He has been a regular speaker at continuing legal education seminars for maritime personal injury. John has been designated a Super Lawyer every year since 2012.


J.D., Lewis and Clark College Northwestern School of Law, Portland, Oregon, 1982

B.A., University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, 1978
Major: Political Science

Jurisdictions Admitted to Practice Washington, 1982
U.S. District Court Western District of Washington, 1983
U.S. District Court Northern District of California, 1987
U.S. Court of Appeals 9th Circuit, 1983
U.S. Supreme Court, 2020
Professional & Bar Association Memberships

WSTLA Maritime Section (n/k/a Washington State Association for Justice)
Member Since: 1985
Chairman: 1993-94

Public Justice Foundation
Member Since: 2000

American Association for Justice
Member Since: 1990

Wash. State Bar Association
Member Since: 1982

King County Bar Association
Member Since: 1982

Published Books
Aurora by John Merriam

Aurora (Trafford Publishing 2008): A sea story based on the author’s experience in the merchant marine.

First Ship (University Book Store Press 2013): A sea story based on the author’s experience in the merchant marine.

Shipping Out on Fresh Water (University Book Store Press 2013): A sea story based on the author’s experience in the merchant marine.

The Last Voyage of the S.S. Producer (University Book Store Press 2013): A sea story based on the author’s experience in the merchant marine.

Busted (Why I Became a Lawyer) (University Book Store Press 2013): A sea story based on the author’s experience in the merchant marine.

Getting Stoned (in the Biblical sense) (University Book Store Press 2013): A sea story based on the author’s experience in the merchant marine.

1976: An Odyssey (available on Kindle only):  A story based on the author’s experiences that year.

Hitching the Alcan (available on Kindle only):  A story of hitchhiking from Anchorage to Seattle.

Baltimore (available on Kindle only):  A story of the author trying to get into law school, making the transition from merchant seaman to lawyer.

12 Years in the Merchant Marine (Amazon 2024):  A collection of the author’s sea stories.

Legal Articles
  1. Do Seamen and Fishermen Injured in the Service of the Ship Have a Right to Medical Care for Life? (Trial News, publication of the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association, January 1994).
  2. State or Federal Court? (Trial News, March 1994): Discussion of which maritime cases are better suited to be filed in which court system.
  3. Early Use of Statutory Offers of Settlement Helps Accomplish Legislative Intent (Trial News, October 1994): Suggested use of RCW 4.84.250 et seq.
  4. Private Investigators: Deposition Witness Fees Paid as Experts or Fact Witnesses? (unpublished).
  5. Litigation or War of Attrition? (Trial News, February 1998): A description of the trial and appeals in Miller v. Arctic Alaska Fisheries, 83 Wash.App. 255, reversed, 133 Wn.2d 250 (1997).
  6. Discovering the Blacklist, "This will go on your Permanent Record" (Trial News, November 1998): A description of the Marine Index Bureau.
  7. Rates of Maintenance in Contracts of Employment Not Enforced When Too Low To Reimburse Reasonable Expenses for Recuperating Seamen (Trial News, December 1999).
  8. Dancing to the Jailhouse Rock (Trial News, March 2000): Trying a case while one’s client is in prison.
  9. Are Surveillance Films Discoverable? (Trial News, July/August, 2000).
  10. Maria (Wash. Free Press, May/June 2009): The story of how a processor was treated by her employer after she was diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease aboard a factory ship in the Bering Sea.
  11. Working 16 Hours a Day for No Pay (Trial News, March 2001): Discussion of whether processors aboard factory trawler fishing vessels are entitled to minimum and overtime wage protection under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.
  12. Shelby (Real Change newspaper, April 2001): The story of what befell a fisherman after getting injured.
  13. Should Contingent Fees be Taken from Maintenance and Cure Recoveries? (Trial News, July/August 2001).
  14. Enhanced Injury Doctrine Adopted Into the General Maritime Law (Trial News, June 2003): Discussion of Van Valkenberg v. Puget Sound Inflatables, et al., 2002 A.M.C. 2673 (W.D. Wash. 2002).
  15. Local Federal Courts More Protective Than State Supreme Court of Fishermen’s Right to Unearned Wages (Trial News, May 2005): Two federal judges refuse to enforce artificially-short, 30-day contracts of employment after seamen are injured.
  16. The Effect of Intentional Concealment of a Prior Injury Upon a Seaman’s Claim for Jones Act Injury (Trial News, July/August 2005): Maintenance and cure might be forfeited but the same is not necessarily true for liability claims.
  17. Are Punitive Damages Available When a Master Assaults a Deckhand? (Trial News, November 2005).
  18. The Aborted Voyage of The Nanea (Washington Free Press, January/February 2006): What is it worth to a yacht owner to not apologize to his injured deckhand?
  19. Fishing Company Makes Home Invasion Motion (Trial News, July/August 2006): Fishing company claims an injured seaman is not entitled to maintenance sufficient to keep up his mortgage payments on a house in the suburbs.
  20. Millions for Defense but Not One Dime for Tribute (Trial News, March 2008): The case of Gruver v. Lesman, 2007 A.M.C. 1559, 489 F.3d 978 (9th Cir. 2007), on remand.
  21. The Effect of Maintenance Payments on: 1) Unemployment Compensation; and 2) Child Support Obligations (Trial News, May 2008).
  22. Are Punitive Damages Available for the Failure to Pay Maintenance and Cure? (Trial News, October 2008): Until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the issue, punitive damages are theoretically available in the state courts of Washington, even though the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit prohibits punitive damages for the unreasonable failure to pay maintenance and cure. State courts are not bound by interpretations by federal courts of the federal maritime law until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the law in question. (The U.S. Supreme Court later did allow recovery of punitive damages.)
  23. A Maritime Employment Contract (Washington Free Press, Nov./Dec. 2008): The story of a paralegal taking a job as cook on a fishing boat.
  24. The Status of Maintenance (for seamen) and Child Support in Washington after Aguilera v. F/T Alaska Juris, 2008 A.M.C. 1845, 535 F.3d 1007 (9th Cir. 2008) (Trial News, October 2009): The Ninth Circuit approved withholding of child support from maintenance in Texas. This article outlines a strategy to prevent that result for a child support order issued by a Washington child support agency.
  25. The One-Armed Lawyer (Wash. Free Press, July/Aug. 2009): The story of a crooked maritime lawyer from New York.
  26. Punitive Damages Now Available for Failure to Pay Maintenance and Cure (Trial News, January 2010)
  27. Suing Ronald Reagan (My First Maritime Case) (Trial News, April 2010) (publication also in Washington Free Press, 2/21/10): Futile attempt to stop the cut-off of free medical care for permanently disabled seamen by the U.S. Public Health Service Hospitals (formerly known as the Marine Hospitals).
  28. Don’t Be Fooled by the IRS Medical Mileage Deduction When Seamen are Reimbursed for Travel to Medical Appointments (Trial News, October 2010)
  29. Vessel Owners have Obligation to Authorize Medical Treatment in Advance . . . Maybe (Trial News, September 2012)
  30. Failure to Report Injuries Within Seven Days Not Fatal to Maritime Claims (Trial News, April 2012)
  31. Are Punitive Damages Available in Wage Claims for Fishermen? (Trial News, December 2012)
  32. Shipowner Liable for Unknown Illnesses that Manifest After Seaman has Left the Service of the Ship (Trial News, May 2013)
  33. Shipowners Can No Longer Escape their Maintenance and Cure Obligation Simply by Purchasing a Contrary Medical Opinion (Trial News, July/August 2013): Discussion of Dean v. Fishing Co. of Alaska, 177 Wn.2d 399, 2013 A.M.C. 2228 (Wash. 2013)
  34. Icicle Seafoods using Alaska Workers’ Compensation to Cheat Processors out of Maintenance and Cure (Trial News, October 2013)
  35. Is Employment of Fishermen ‘At Will‘ or is Just Cause Required for Discharge? (Trial News, March 2014)
  36. When Setting Rates of Maintenance for Seamen with a House and Family, Should the Entire Mortgage Payment be Taken Into Account? (Trial News, April 2014)
  37. Are Unearned Wages and Maintenance Payable Beyond Maximum Cure? (Trial News, July/August 2014)
  38. Don’t Concede the First and Last Days of the Maintenance Obligation (Trial News, October 2014)
  39. Too Much Seatime (Washington Free Press, November/December 2005)
  40. Looking for a Lawyer in the West Indies (Trial News, March 2003)
  41. Litigating in the Bilge (Trial News, March 1994)
  42. Sailing the Seas of Maritime Law (In 35 Years of Practice) (Trial News, July/August 2017)
  43. The Fact of Surveillance Discoverable Before A Plaintiff's Deposition (May 2019)
  44. Trial of a Maritime Case in Idaho (Trial News Dec. 2019)
  45. "No Fish - No Pay" Practices Violate Fair Labor Standards Act (Trial News, February 2020)
  46. Seaman On U.S.-Flagged Vessel Forced to Arbitrate Jones Act Claim Because Not a U.S. Citizen (Trial News, June 2020)
  47. A Proposal (Trial News, November 2020)
  49. Are Seamen Entitled To Maintenance While In Jail? (Trial News, September 2021)
  50. Boat Owners Think They Can Cheat Employees out of Small Amounts of Wages With Impunity (Trial News, December 2021)
  51. Setting Rates of Maintenance:  Should ‘Reasonableness’ be Determined by Comparing a Seaman’s Mortgage to Rents in the area, or to Other Mortgages? (Trial News, January 2022)
  52. Found: A Commonly Overlooked Element of Damages in Seamen’s Injury Claims (Trial News, June 2022)
  53. A Challenge To Young Lawyers Practicing Maritime Law (Trial News, November, 2022)
Representative Cases
  • Dean v. Fishing Co. of Alaska, 177 Wn.2d 399, 2013 A.M.C. 2228 (Wash. 2013). - Summary judgment standard not appropriate for motions to reinstate maintenance and cure. When a shipowner obtains a medical opinion that the injured seaman is no longer entitled to maintenance and cure, conflicting with the opinion of the seaman’s treating physician, the treating physician’s opinion trumps.
  • Lundborg v. Keystone Shipping Co., 138 Wn.2d 658, 1999 A.M.C. 2635 (Wash. 1999). - Wash. Supreme Court refuses to follow federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and won’t enforce an $8/day rate of maintenance for union seamen.
  • Rowell v. Tyson, 1999 A.M.C. 2277 (W.D. Wash. 1999). - Federal court refuses to to be bound by $20/day rate of maintenance for non-union seamen in individual contracts of employment.
  • Raby v. M/V Pine Forest, 1990 A.M.C. 2441 (W.D. Wash. 1990),    modified sub nom., Su v. Southern Aster, 1993 A.M.C. 207, 978 F.2d 462 (9th Cir. 1992), cert. denied, 111 S.Ct. 2015. - $32 million in wage penalties and other relief awarded to foreign seamen (reversed on appeal).
  • Galon v. M/V Hira II, 1990 A.M.C. 342 (W.D. Wash. 1989). - Federal courts have mandatory jurisdiction over wage claims brought by foreign seamen, even when the seamen are not discharged in a U.S. port. (Later cases throw this ruling into doubt.)
  • Jones v. Reagan, 1985 A.M.C. 944, 748 F.2d 1331 (9th Cir. 1984), cert. denied, 472 U.S. 1029. - Attempt to prevent cessation of free medical care to class of permanently disabled seamen following closure of the U.S. Public Health Service Hospitals (formerly the Marine Hospitals).
  • Van Valkenberg v. Puget Sound Inflatables, 2002 A.M.C. 2673 (W.D. Wash. 2002). - Enhanced Injury (“crashworthiness”) Doctrine adopted into the general maritime law.
  • Gruver v. Lesman, 489 F.3d 978, 2007 A.M.C. 1559 (9th Cir. 2007). - Maritime jurisdiction for the master’s assault on a deckhand established on appeal.
Classes / Seminars

Speaker - Maritime Personal Injury in Washington, Lorman Educational Services, 2006

Speaker - Maritime Personal Injury in Washington, Lorman Educational Services, 2007

Speaker - Maritime Personal Injury in Washington, Lorman Educational Services, 2008

Speaker - Maritime Personal Injury in Washington, Lorman Educational Services, 2009

Speaker - Maritime Personal Injury in Washington, Lorman Educational Services, 2011

Speaker - Maritime Personal Injury in Washington, Lorman Educational Services, 2012

Honors and Awards

Law School Tuition Scholarship - Seafarers' International Union, 1978 - 1982

Designated as a Super Lawyer every year since 2011

Client Reviews
John has helped me get my pay. He REALLY went up to bat for me, I can't recommend him highly enough. Jamie
There are very few people I trust in this world but John Merriam is at the top of my list he not only is a man of outstanding character and morals as well as honest but he truly cares about his clients well being and situation… Matthew
I lost most of my vision from an accident at sea. Gordon handled my case with motivation and haste that I could imagine would have been the way he would have handled it if it had been him who was injured. I was ver impressed by how much he cared and especially his work ethic. Andrew
Gordon helped me and family get through a very hard time. I was severely injured, and Gordon was able to settle my case for more than i was hoping for. If anything else happens he will be the first person I call. Kerrey
I very much appreciated the sense of urgency that Gordon Webb demonstrated as he handled my case. Emails and phone calls were returned almost instantly, questions were answered and solutions were offered. Gordon's firm came highly recommended and I am very pleased that I made the right choice to hire him. Maureen