Traditionally admiralty suits are not tried by jury even though there is no law or rule which forbids jury trial for admiralty suits. Under the Jones Act, if a seaman is injured or killed in the course of employment, his/her personal representatives can bring an action for damages at law with the right of trial by jury.[i]
In Hassinger v. Tideland Electric Membership Corp., 627 F. Supp. 65, 75-76 (D.N.C. 1985), the court held that a traditional admiralty claim can be joined with a claim under Jones Act, and both claims can be submitted for a jury trial provided that the facts and the claims are so incidental and interrelated.[ii] Further in Parker v. Rowan Cos., 599 So. 2d 296, 299 (La. 1992), the court held that, this right to jury trial for traditional admiralty claims when joined together with Jones Act claim is granted for convenience and in such situations traditional admiralty claim is treated as pendent to Jones Act claim.
The Jones Act right to jury trials does not apply to in rem actions. Therefore, an exception to the general rule is that if the plaintiff asserts the same right both in a Jones Act in personam action and an admiralty in rem action; the plaintiff may have to elect whether to proceed under the Jones Act with a jury or with the in rem action without a jury.[iii] And so, the plaintiff cannot have the benefit of both the laws.
Further, if the Jones Act claim is settled by way of a directed verdict, then the court can dismiss the jury and decide the traditional admiralty claims without a jury.[iv] However, in Red Star Towing & Transp. Co. v. The “Ming Giant”, 552 F. Supp. 367 (S.D.N.Y. 1982) the court can also submit the traditional admiralty claim to the jury.
[i] 46 USCS § 30104 (formerly 46 USCS § 688)
[ii] See also Concordia Co. v. Panek, 115 F.3d 67, 70 (1st Cir. Mass. 1997)
[iii] Plamals v. S.S. Pinar Del Rio, 277 U.S. 151, 156-157 (U.S. 1928)
[iv] Simko v. C & C Marine Maintenance Co., 594 F.2d 960, 966 (3d Cir. Pa. 1979)