When bringing a lawsuit dealing with an injured Jones Act seaman claim, much thought must be given to what court system, federal or state, the lawsuit should be filed and whether it is preferable to have a judge or jury decide the facts of the case. Maritime law affords injured seaman several options each of which has its pros and cons. In the case of Bell v. Westbank Fishing LLC, the decision was made to file the seaman’s injury claim in federal court without asking for a jury. Once filed in the federal court, Westbank, the defendant employer, filed formal demand seeking a jury, not the federal judge, decide the facts of the case, if it was liable for the accident, and if so, how much compensation the injured seaman is entitled to receive.
The Injured Seaman Has the Right to Demand a Jury Trial
The injured seaman sought to strike his employer’s jury demand arguing his employer has no legal right to a jury trial because of the way the compliant invoked the federal court’s jurisdiction. The complaint filed by the seaman indicated that the court had jurisdiction by what is known as a federal question. Federal courts have jurisdiction to decide claim brought under a federal statute. The Jones Act, which provides injured seamen a negligence claim against their employers, is a federal statute. The complaint was silent as to any other basis of federal jurisdiction. The employer argued that when jurisdiction is based upon the Jones Act, both the injured seaman and the employer have a right to demand a jury. The employer also argued that it has a Constitutional right to a jury trial under the Seventh Amendment to the Constitution.