Christopher A. Abel leads the firm’s Maritime Section, where he represents maritime clients in a wide variety of matters, including admiralty and maritime law, maritime insurance defense and subrogation, as well as employment law matters.
Prior to entering private law practice in 1995, Chris served for sixteen years as a commissioned officer and law specialist in the United States Coast Guard, eventually reaching the rank of Commander. While on active duty, he spent three tours of duty at sea and commanded two ships.
He also served an extended tour with the U.S. Navy’s Judge Advocate General Corps and later served as the principal assistant legal officer for the Coast Guard’s Mid-Atlantic region. Chris’s employment law experience includes advising and representing a wide variety of clients in both the public and private sectors.
As both a litigator and “house counsel,” he has assisted clients with matters ranging from sexual harassment, grievances, and employee privacy issues, to employee discipline, termination and post-employment matters, protection of trade secrets and business confidences, to wrongful discharge claims, pay and compensation disputes, and gender, race and disability discrimination issues.
Chris’s work in the realm of admiralty and maritime law has involved work in virtually every aspect of commercial life along the waterfront and well out to sea, to include serving as lead counsel for numerous complex marine casualty and environmental litigation cases, handling a wide variety of cargo, terminal, marina, shipyard, and maritime contract transactions and disputes, resolving Coast Guard regulatory and mariner licensure issues, working the spectrum of vessel charter, documentation, marine insurance, and fleet operation challenges, addressing a number of unique marine employment issues, and representing a range of clients in various vessel arrest, attachment and limitation of liability actions.
Chris serves as the General Counsel for the International Association of Marine Investigators (IAMI). Chris teaches classes in both Admiralty and Employment Law at the College of William & Mary, where he was the school’s 2011-2012 St. George Tucker Adjunct Professor of Law.
Chris is an award-winning author and a frequent speaker on maritime and employment law topics before local, regional, and national audiences. An experienced litigator in federal and state court and before a variety of administrative tribunals, Chris’s professional affiliations include membership in the Labor and Employment Law and Litigation sections of both the American and Virginia Bar Associations.
He served for many years as the General Counsel of the American Association of School Personnel Administrators, and he currently serves as the Chair of the Human Resources Committee of the Virginia Ship Repair Association. Chris also is a member of the Maritime Law Association, the Southeastern Admiralty Law Institute, the Mid-Atlantic Mariners Club, the Fort Lauderdale Mariners Club, and the Newport News Propeller Club. He is a lifetime member and former Proceedings editor for the United States Naval Institute.
A member of the Virginia State Bar, Chris is a past Chairman of the Bar’s Sixth District Committee. He is admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of Virginia, the Supreme Court of the United States, the First and Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the Court of Appeals of the Armed Forces, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, the U.S. District Courts for the Eastern and Western Districts of Virginia and for the Western District of Michigan, and the United States Court of Federal Claims.
Locally, Chris is a former member and past Chairman of the York County Planning Commission and a Past-President of the York-Poquoson Bar Association. He also serves on the Executive Committee of the Board of Legal Aid of Southeastern Virginia, is a former President of the York County Library Foundation, and is a former Executive Committee member of the York Foundation for Public Education.
A 1979 honors graduate of the United States Coast Guard Academy with a bachelor’s degree in government, Chris also holds a Certificate in the History of Strategy and Policy from the United States Naval War College, a master’s degree in international relations from Old Dominion University and a juris doctor degree from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary.
- Successfully tried a complex multi-party dispute involving a severely injured tankerman’s status as a longshoreman vice a seaman subject to tort liability under the Jones Act for the owner and operator of a fleet of barges.
- Successfully defended marina operator in South Carolina against a maritime personal injury claim arising out personal watercraft rental from a tenant business.
- Lead litigation counsel on multi-million dollar international maritime contract dispute involving damage to and lost use of a large gantry container crane at a major terminal facility.
- Successfully represented NVOCC and freight forwarder in companion cargo claim suits by shipper in federal court in New York.
- Successfully defended operator of a water taxi service against a million-dollar maritime dram shop personal injury claim in federal court in Maryland. Succeeded in having all counts of the plaintiff’s case against client dismissed prior to commencement of discovery.
- Advised clients on time-charter of vessel for use in oil industry in the Gulf of Mexico and on chartering passenger vessels for use in overseas eco-tourism/research.
- Successfully defended vessel owner whose vessel blew from its mooring in a hurricane and damaged nine other vessels and destroyed a marina’s floating dock system.
- Successfully advised and represented both high-level executives and corporate employer entities in negotiating and drafting complex executive compensation, separation, and retirement issues.
- Won early judicial dismissal, with prejudice, of all claims against client employer made terminated employee claiming defamation.
- Successfully resolved complicated U.S. Department of Labor labor category reclassification for wage-determined employees assigned by client employer to U.S. Government contract subject to the McNamara Service Contract Act.
- Won public employee grievance case appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court.
- Successfully resolved numerous employment discrimination charges filed with the EEOC and the Virginia Human Rights Commission.
- Regularly provides policy review and all-hands employee training on preventing and responding to complaints of workplace discrimination, harassment, and violence.
- J.D., College of William & Mary, 1990
- M.A., Old Dominion University, 1985
- B.S., U.S. Coast Guard Academy, 1979
- Maritime Law Association: Proctor in Admiralty
- Southeastern Admiralty Law Institute
- International Association of Marine Investigators, General Counsel
- American Bar Association
- Federal Bar Association
- Virginia Bar Association
- Norfolk Portsmouth Bar Association
- York-Poquoson Bar Association: Past President
- Mid-Atlantic Mariner’s Club: Charter Member
- Newport News Propeller Club
- United States Naval Institute: Lifetime Member
- Council of School Attorneys of the Virginia School Board Association: Former member
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