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The Admiralty Jurisdiction
Extension Act of 1948

Legal Remedy for Land Injuries Caused by Maritime Vessels

Admiralty law governs questions, torts, and offenses concerning maritime parties and objects. In its original form, admiralty law was restricted to governing maritime offenses that occurred only outside of the bounds of state borders, holding that state law was exclusively preeminent to federal admiralty jurisdiction in any cases of injury or damage on land. In 1948, however, admiralty jurisdiction was extended to provide injured parties on land with broader grounds for making claims against vessels on navigable waters.

The Admiralty Jurisdiction Extension Act of 1948 provided that admiralty jurisdiction of district courts does extend to injuries or damage on land caused by vessels while they were still on navigable waters.

The Effect of the Admiralty Jurisdiction Extension Act

The extension widens the scope of original jurisdiction held by admiralty courts. When a court has original jurisdiction over a subject, that means it must be the first to hear any claims made. Due to this Act, admiralty courts have original jurisdiction over cases involving ships on navigable waters that caused damage onshore. Prior to this extension, there were cases in which neither federal admiralty law nor local state law covered the legal claims arising from land-based injuries caused by maritime vessels. The extension does not preempt state law where it does apply; rather, it provides legal remedy for injured parties where state law falls short.

Examples of cases that fall under the Admiralty Jurisdiction Extension Act:

  • Property damage on bridges by vessels traveling navigable waters
  • Damage / injury caused to or on a pier by a vessel
  • Injury to maritime employees injured on land while working near their vessel
  • Persons injured while involved in loading, unloading, or storing operations for vessel cargo

Since its enactment, the Admiralty Jurisdiction Extension Act of 1948, codified at 46 USCA Approx. § 740, has given many injured parties a legal avenue by which to seek damages from the maritime party responsible for property damage or physical injury. Case law development by the courts since the extension was granted has consistently held that certain matters previously policed by state law are not retracted. For example, legal precedent on the statute holds that cases of injury due to ship-to-shore pollution are still governed by the power of the states. Finally, if the federal and appellate courts find that the extension does not apply in a particular case, injured parties will then need to go back to the state level to continue seeking remedies according to applicable state laws.

To learn more about this act, please do not hesitate to contact us today.

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