No admiralty jurisdiction in shallow water injury

Defense attorneys that try to protect an insurer’s deep pockets (well, their client’s deep pockets) will sometimes “remove” a case from state to federal court. 

Removal is a legal mechanism that flips a plaintiff’s lawsuit out of state court and into federal court. Still, you need a jurisdictional basis to be in federal court before you can pull the removal lever.

A recent decision from the snowbound trails of the U.S. District Court, Northern District of New York addressed this very issue.

The underlying case involves a gruesome and paralyzing injury following a dive from a recreational vessel into shallow water. Suit was brought in state court by the injured soul against the vessel owner alleging negligence. The defendants promptly tried to remove the lawsuit to federal court on the basis that admiralty jurisdiction applied. Admiralty claims always get you inside a federal courthouse.

However, the removal lever was pulled in error, the district court decided. Dissecting the claims in a thoughtful decision, the court found the focal point of the boat owner’s alleged negligence was failing to advise a passenger of the shallow depths. That focal point, the court reasoned, did not have the potential to disrupt maritime commerce. Without being able to land the disruption argument, the court was unable to find a basis for admiralty jurisdiction. The lawsuit was sent back, or remanded, to state court.

There’s more to the decision and it’s the sort of decision that I wouldn’t be surprised to see is appealed. I’ll let you know if it is.

Underway and making way.

About the author

John K. Fulweiler

John K. Fulweiler is a licensed mariner and experienced admiralty attorney. He represents individuals and companies throughout the East and Gulf Coasts and has recently taken command of his own maritime law firm. He enjoys navigating the choppy waters of the maritime law, but readily admits to missing life on the water. He can be reached at john@fulweilerlaw.com . His website is www.saltwaterlaw.com.

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