Jurisdiction in Maritime Matters Between States

When an injury occurs at sea, offshore workers have legal rights and the ability to seek compensation under the Jones Act. It's vital to file your claim where you're likely to find a sympathetic jury. See, not all courts treat cases identically. A jury of your "peers" could have wildly different attitudes about offshore work, business, and personal injury claims in different regions of the U.S. Choosing the right court to present your case could strengthen your chances of a fair and favorable result.

Plaintiffs have a choice about where they file suit—Jones Act plaintiffs in particular can actually choose between federal and state courts when filing. Under the "savings to suitors" clause in admiralty law, claimants may take their Jones Act case to state court for simple common law disputes (such as personal injury claims) against an individual. The same clause also protects claimants from tactics that would stack the deck against them, like when a defendant insists on taking a case to a federal forum to gain an unfair advantage.

In general, plaintiffs may choose to file:

  • Where the accident took place
  • Where the plaintiff lives
  • Where the defendant operates
  • Where key witnesses are located
  • Where the plaintiff is receiving treatment

Having an experienced lawyer has as much to do with choosing a forum as it does with knowing the law. An experienced attorney knows the local judges, understands the people in those communities, and has a sense of where a jury is leaning in a particular community. If you have an airtight case, it won't matter if you choose an attorney who doesn't know the people to whom your case is presented. Knowing the jury's inclination keeps your case from falling on deaf ears.

Selecting a Trial-by-Jury for a Jones Act Lawsuit

When a seaman elects to sue his employer for negligence and/or unseaworthiness in state court under the Jones Act, the defendant may elect to have a trial by jury—even if the plaintiff does not. In addition, if a claim is filed in federal court, the plaintiff has the ability to select either a bench or jury trial.

If you or a loved one have been injured in an offshore accident, it is imperative to seek counsel from an attorney experienced in maritime law. The legal and strategic concerns regarding your injury are complex—very few people are qualified to handle your case like a maritime lawyer. Arnold & Itkin LLP has helped hundreds of mariners, dockworkers, and other seamen get their lives back to normal after a life-altering accident. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.

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