Florida has the most coastline out of any state in the contiguous United States, with nearly 8,500 miles of coastline on the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. Most Florida residents have likely heard the term “maritime law” or “admiralty law,” and many correctly assume that this area of law has to do with the issues that arise on the navigable waters of the United States. However, maritime law is a unique and esoteric area of the law that only a select few partitioners, attorneys who regularly specialize in the field of maritime law, truly understand. This post will explain a few of the basics of maritime law.
First, maritime law and admiralty law are interchangeable terms that refer to the body of law that governs most legal issues that arise from or relate to marine casualties, including personal injury claims, on the navigable waters or a vessel in navigation. A general misnomer is that all maritime law claims must be brought in Federal Court. This not the case. Under the Savings to Suitors clause, a personal injury plaintiff – say for example a Jones Act seaman or a cruise ship passenger can elect to bring suit in State Court, plead the clam is governed by maritime law and request a jury. Therefore, state and federal courts share concurrent jurisdiction to hear certain maritime claims, while other must be filed in federal court. The option of suing in state court has been happening less and less these for several years now at least with regard to claims brought by cruise ship passengers and Jones Act seaman employed aboard cruise ships. Why?
Firstly, Cruise Lines for sometime now have included within their ticket contract a “forum selection clause.” This clause mandates that if you sue the Cruise Line you must do so in the location and particular court selected by the Cruise Lines. In the case of Carnival, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean, these Cruise Lines have designated suit must be filed in the Federal Court for the Southern District of Florida. Secondly, Jones Act Seaman for many, many years could sue in State Court under the Savings to Suitor’s clause, mentioned above. Cruise Lines seeking to deprive the seaman of a jury trial have for years now inserted a mandatory arbitration clause into the crew member’s employment contract. The arbitration provision deprives the crew member of a right to a jury trial which he previously enjoyed un the Savings to Suitor’s clause.