Generally, there is no constitutional right to a jury trial in admiralty cases. However, neither the seventh amendment nor any statute of Congress forbids jury trials in admiralty cases, a demand for jury is traditionally not allowed in admiralty cases, except under specific statutory authorization. To obtain a jury trial in an admiralty case, a party must comply with the requirements generally applicable to civil cases under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.[i]
Admiralty and nonadmiralty claims can be tried together in order to assure a fair trial and consistency of verdicts. However, the capacity of the jury will be advisory in nature for the action under admiralty.
An advisory jury advises the judge; review on appeal from the court’s judgment is as though no jury was present. Therefore, any errors relating to rulings before the jury and instructions to the jury need not be considered.[ii] The function of an advisory jury is solely to enlighten the conscience of the court.[iii]
In Mayer v. Cornell Univ., 1995 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2733 (N.D.N.Y Feb. 25, 1995), it was observed that even though claims can sound in admiralty, if diversity jurisdiction can be established there is a right to a jury trial.
In re Incident Aboard the D/B Ocean King, 758 F.2d 1063 (5th Cir. La. 1985), it was observed that when a district court empanels an advisory jury, the court is not required to adopt the findings of the jury. However, the district court is required to make findings of fact and conclusions of law adequate for appellate review.
Therefore, it is clear that although there is no right as such for a jury trial in admiralty cases, no statutes expressly forbids such trials in admiralty cases. However, as far as the admiralty cases are concerned, the jury will be advisory in nature.
[i] USCS Fed Rules Civ Proc R 38
[ii] Sullivan v. Rowan Cos., 952 F.2d 141 (5th Cir. La. 1992)
[iii] Skoldberg v. Villani, 601 F. Supp. 981 (S.D.N.Y. 1985)