A Florida Federal court has recently found that an injured maritime worker has a right to a jury trial for his Jones Act negligence, unseaworthiness and failure to provide maintenance and cure claims asserted as counter-claims to his employer’s admiralty declaratory judgment action.
Facts of the Case
In this case, a maritime worker sustained a back injury while standing watch aboard a ship. From this incident, he demanded that the ship owners provide him maintenance and cure benefits which is benefit owed to seamen who are injured while in call of the vessel regardless of fault. Two days after receiving the maintenance and cure demand, the ship owners filed a declaratory judgment action under the Declaratory Judgment Act seeking a Florida Federal court to determine that maintenance and cure is not owed because the maritime worker failed to qualify as a seaman. In bringing the declaratory judgment action, the ship owners invoked the court’s admiralty jurisdiction which does not carry the right of a jury trial. The injured maritime worker answered the declaratory judgment action and filed a counter-claim against the ship owners seeking damages under the legal theories of Jones Act negligence, unseaworthiness and failure to provide maintenance and cure. Along with the counter-claim, the injured maritime worker demanded a jury trial. The ship owners moved to strike the jury trial demand on the basis that jury trials are not available in admiralty proceedings.