28 USCS § 1333 provides that district courts should have original jurisdiction of any civil case of admiralty of maritime jurisdiction. The generally stated rule is that admiralty tort jurisdiction depends not upon the nature of the tort, but upon the locality where it occurred.[i] Therefore, torts that occur upon navigable waters are within admiralty jurisdiction and torts that occur on land will not come under admiralty jurisdiction.[ii]
However, as the consequence of a wrongful act or omission, if a person or property falls from the land into the sea and there is no impact on the person or property before s/he or the property strikes the water, then the tort is considered to be occurred in water.[iii]
In Gonsalves v. Morse Dry Dock & Repair Co., 266 U.S. 171 (U.S. 1924) Plaintiff was an employee under the respondent who owned a a certain steamer. Plaintiff suffered injuries while repairing the steamer. When the injuries occurred, the steamer was resting in a floating dock at a pier. Plaintiff was injured because of a faulty blau torch that respondent had negligently permitted to be out of repair. The court found that the repairs were made on the steamer while it was supported by a structure that was floating on navigable waters and therefore the court determined that the accident did not happen on land.
In Baldwin v. Linde-Griffith Const. Co., 115 N.J.L. 608 (E. & A. 1935), the court observed that the place where the accident originates determines the issue of jurisdiction between the common law state court and the federal admiralty jurisdiction.
[i] Hardt v. Cunningham, 136 N.J.L. 137 (Sup. Ct. 1947)
[ii] Thomson v. Chesapeake Yacht Club, Inc., 255 F. Supp. 555 (D. Md. 1965)
[iii] Interlake S.S. Co. v. Nielsen, 338 F.2d 879 (6th Cir. Ohio 1964)