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Admiralty Jurisdiction Over Other Torts

A claim falls within the admiralty jurisdiction of federal court if the action complained has a maritime “situs,” and a maritime “nexus” [i] However, some torts will not come under the purview of admiralty jurisdiction.

An action for defamation will not come within admiralty jurisdiction if the receipt of the defamatory statement, publication, and resulting harm occurred on dry land.[ii] In order to make a tort claim to be cognizable under admiralty jurisdiction, the activity from which the claim arises must satisfy a location test and a connection test.[iii] To satisfy the location test, two conditions must be satisfied.  They are:

  • The tort must occur on navigable water,
  • The injury suffered on land must be caused by a vessel on navigable water.

Similarly, to fulfill the connection test, two issues must be considered:

  • Whether, the incident has a potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce;
  • Whether the general character of the activity shows a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity.

In Williams v. Reiss, 643 So. 2d 792 (La.App. 4 Cir. Sept. 29, 1994), the appellant-deckhand injured his back while working on a commercial tugboat.  The injury occurred when the deckhand pulled a wire while attempting to tie a barge to the tugboat.  Appellant contented that his injury occurred because the doctor failed to warn him that he had a disc space in his spine.  As a result, the deckhand filed an action against the doctor and the employer.  The court held that the instant case will not come under admiralty jurisdiction as his claims were medical malpractice in nature.

It is clearly stated in Ford Motor Co. v. Wallenius Lines, M/V Atlantic Cinderella, 476 F. Supp. 1362 (E.D. Va. 1979), that the admiralty jurisdiction over maritime torts is traditionally determined by looking into the place where the tort occurred.  If the tort happens on navigable waters, such action is within the admiralty jurisdiction and if the tort happens on land, then it will not come under the admiralty jurisdiction.

Similarly, in order to determine whether there is maritime jurisdiction, elements such as functions and roles of parties, types of vehicles and instrumentalities involved, causation and type of injury, and traditional concepts of the role of admiralty law are to be considered.[iv]

[i] Jose v. M/V Fir Grove, 765 F. Supp. 1015 (D. Or. 1990)

[ii] La Montagne v. Craig, 817 F.2d 556 (9th Cir. Cal. 1987)

[iii] Broughton v. Fla. Int’l Underwriters, 139 F.3d 861 (11th Cir. Ga. 1998)

[iv] Id

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