Admiralty Jurisdiction over Collision Cases

Generally, collision between vessels or watercrafts on navigable waters comes within the jurisdiction of admiralty.   The claims that result from a collision can be either in personam or in rem.  Jurisdiction over civil cases arising out of collisions between vessels on the navigable waters or high seas is assigned to the federal courts by the U.S. Constitution and statutes enacted by the Congress.[i]

Jurisdiction over suits against the federal government for claims arising out of marine collisions involving U.S. government vessels is conferred on the federal courts by the Public Vessels Act.[ii] Similarly, the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act [iii]confers jurisdiction over claims arising from damage caused by foreign public vessels engaged in commercial activities.  In most cases, the state courts have concurrent jurisdiction over collision cases that occur on public navigable waters.

In Oran v. Fair Wind Sailing, Inc., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 110350 (D.V.I. Nov. 23, 2009), the court observed that the admiralty law must be applied to determine the liability where plaintiff was injured as the result of her jet ski colliding with an anchored vessel in the U.S. territorial waters.

In Foster v. Peddicord, 826 F.2d 1370 (4th Cir. Md. 1987), the court observed that four factors must be considered while determining whether alleged wrongs satisfy the nexus test for admiralty jurisdiction.  They are:

  • Functions and roles of the parties;
  • Type of vehicles and instrumentalities involved;
  • Causation and type of injury;
  • Traditional concepts of the role of admiralty law.

In Schumacher v. Cooper, 850 F. Supp. 438 (D.S.C. 1994), the court observed that the personal injury negligence actions arising from a collision between a pleasure boat and a swimmer on a lake comes within the admiralty jurisdiction.  Cases involving a tort committed on navigable water are governed by admiralty law.  If there is no admiralty rule on point, admiralty law looks to state law, either statutory or case laws to furnish the decision.

ii] U.S. Constitution, Article III

[ii] 46 USCS § 31101

[iii] 28 USCS § 1603


Inside Admiralty Jurisdiction over Collision Cases