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Admiralty Jurisdiction over Traditional Tort Claims

Tort is defined as a body of rights, obligations, and remedies that is applied by courts in civil proceedings to provide relief for persons who suffered harm from the wrongful acts of others.  There are certain torts which are maritime in nature and such torts come under the purview of admiralty jurisdiction.

Negligence cases,[i] assault and battery aboard a ship,[ii] false detention or arrest, injuries suffered by a worker engaged in repairing a bridge from a vessel moored in navigable water, suits involving breach of the duty to furnish a seaworthy ship are some of the examples of torts of maritime nature.

In LeBlanc v. Cleveland, 198 F.3d 353 (2d Cir. N.Y. 1999), the court applies a two part test to determine whether a tort action falls within the admiralty jurisdiction of the federal court.  Firstly, the alleged tort must occur on or over navigable waters.  Secondly, the activity giving rise to the incident must have had a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity.

In Vasquez v. GMD Shipyard Corp., 582 F.3d 293 (2d Cir. N.Y. 2009), the court confirmed that a claim arising out of an injury in an empty dry dock was properly subject to admiralty jurisdiction.  In the instant case, a shipyard worker fell and died while in a graving dock that had no water in it.  The court affirmed that admiralty jurisdiction over the tort claims are determined by using a two party test.  The court found that even if a graving dock is empty, it is considered as a part of navigable waters for jurisdiction purposes and work in a shipyard has a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity and commerce.

In Mission Bay Jet Sports, LLC v. Colombo (In re Mission Bay Jet Sports, LLC), 570 F.3d 1124, 1125 (9th Cir. Cal. 2009), two women passengers were injured when they were thrown off a Sea Doo personal watercraft.  Plaintiffs were injured by the Sea Doo’s propulsion jet when they were thrown off.  Plaintiffs alleged it happened as a result of the negligence of the operator. The court used the two part test.  The court also took an inclusive view of the types of activities that are covered under this test and found that there is no scope of admiralty jurisdiction for the tort claims.

In The Whisper, 268 F. 464 (6th Cir. Tenn. 1920), the court observed that a libelant is entitled to recover damages for the physical and mental injuries suffered by him/her.  S/he is also entitled to recover in a court of admiralty jurisdiction whatever damages s/he actually sustained from the injuries inflicted upon him/her on board the vessel.

In Anderson v. The E. B. Ward, Jr., 38 F. 44 (C.C.D. La. 1889), the court observed that the master and owner of the inboard vessel owe a duty to provide reasonable care to members of the outboard vessel to see that they are not injured in crossing the inboard vessel because of the negligence of the master.

In Morris v. Princess Cruises, Inc., 236 F.3d 1061 (9th Cir. Cal. 2001), the tort claims brought in by the plaintiff arose from the distressing experience suffered after plaintiff’s spouse was medically evacuated from the cruise vessel.  The claim was dismissed by the court since the plaintiff failed to adduce any evidence suggesting that any possible breach of duty on the part of cruise vessel caused harm to plaintiff or spouse.

[i] Anderson v. The E. B. Ward, Jr., 38 F. 44 (C.C.D. La. 1889)

[ii] The Whisper, 268 F. 464 (6th Cir. Tenn. 1920),

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