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This Supreme Court Decision Helps Maritime Claimants

Claimants are sometimes prevented from having their claims decided by a jury through the use of a procedural device called "summary judgment." Under certain circumstances, a court can decide that the lack of a material factual dispute and/or the state of the law is such that a claimant's claim is not sufficiently supported so as to allow it to be decided by a jury. In a recent decision, the Supreme Court just reminded everyone, that factual disputes should not be decided by the courts, but by juries. It you're a claimant with a cruise ship personal injury, or the family of a maritime worker killed at work or a maritime business suing to recover damages, this Supreme Court reminder is good news.

By way of background, cop shoots man on porch, man lives and sues cop. That's a neat enough background for the point I'm going to make. When the lawsuit is filed in federal district court, it gets dismissed before trial on summary judgment grounds. That is, the court reasoned that the force was not unreasonable so there wasn't anything for a jury to hear. The appellate court upheld the trial court's outcome, but with different reasoning and ultimately the Supreme Court agreed to hear the matter. In other words, the Supreme Court blew the whistle.

In a tight, relatively short decision (for these folks) the Supreme Court reminded everyone that issues of fact must be decided by juries. Looking squarely at the appellate court, the Supremes stated it was improper for them to have "weighed the evidence" and resolved disputes in favor of the non-moving party. In other words, the appellate court should have credited evidence about the lighting, demeanor, vocalizations and positioning all of which it appears was not properly considered. Presumably, if the court had given credit to these elements the matter would have gone to a jury for decision as opposed to being dismissed by the judge.

Summary judgment certainly has a place in our judicial system as it removes claims and arguments that aren't supported and shouldn't be presented to a jury. Still, our system is built on an arrangement where the courts tell us what the law is and juries tell us what the facts are. Anything less is out of bounds. You can find a link to the decision by clicking HERE.

Underway and making way.

By: John Fulweiler


Categories: General Maritime Law

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