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Great Lakes Case

Generally, a jury trail is not provided as a constitutional right in admiralty suits.  However, according to 28 USCS § 1873, in an admiralty suit relating to any matter of contract or tort regarding any vessel of twenty tons or upward, the trial by jury upon parties’ request can be permitted if:

  • the vessel enrolled and licensed for the coasting trade;
  • employed in the business of commerce; or
  • navigating between places in different states upon the lakes and navigable waters connecting said lakes.

In Lees v. Bob-Lo Co., 318 F. Supp. 1107, 1109 (E.D. Mich. 1970), the court held that, the congress provided section 1873 to expand the district courts’ admiralty jurisdiction.  Therefore, right of jury trial specified under section 1873 of USCS is available only to the Great Lakes and connected waters.  The provision cannot be applied to all issues of fact, but only to those arising in cases of contract or tort.  Jury trial cannot be availed of in case of foreign vessels or vessels trading between ports of the same state.[i]

If the vessel of both the parties satisfies the conditions specified in section 1873, then both the parties can demand a jury trial.  In Rich v. Lambert, 53 U.S. 347, 353 (U.S. 1852), the court held that, if several claims against a vessel are established upon a common injury and loss, same general rules of law and same evidence, the court can permit the proceedings to be joint either by allowing the parties to unite in the libel, or by an order for consolidation, if separate suits have been instituted.

Further, in Doughty v. Nebel Towing Co., 270 F. Supp. 957, 959 (E.D. La. 1967), it was held that if the provisions of the Great lakes Statute conflicts with any other statutory right related to admiralty, the conventional admiralty rule will be followed and trial by jury will not be permitted.

[i] The Western States, 159 F. 354, 356 (2d Cir. N.Y. 1908)

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