Admiralty cases are regulated by Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in respect to the binding effect of the court’s findings. According to USCS Fed Rules Civ Proc R 53, findings of fact, whether based on oral or other evidence, must not be set aside unless clearly erroneous, and the reviewing court must give due regard to the trial court’s opportunity to judge the witnesses’ credibility. The above rule is equally applicable to findings made in admiralty cases. For example, the rule applies to findings on questions of negligence and unseaworthiness and to establishing the priority of liens to a vessel. In reviewing a district court’s factual findings, an appellate court applies the clearly erroneous standard, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the appellee. A finding is clearly erroneous when although there is evidence to support it, a reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed. In an admiralty case, questions of negligence, including causation, are factual issues and are thus reviewed under the clearly erroneous standard.[i] Under the doctrine of comparative negligence, it is the responsibility of the trial judge as the fact finder to assess the facts and apportion the negligence of the parties as s/he deems proper.
[i] Martin v. Harris, 560 F.3d 210 (4th Cir. N.C. 2009)