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Boating Injury & Admiralty Jurisdiction - A Maritime Lawyer Explains

Defense attorneys when trying to protect an insurer's deep pockets (or, okay, their client's deep pockets) will sometimes "remove" a case from state court to federal court. "Removal" is a legal mechanism that when activated flips a plaintiff's lawsuit out of state court and into federal court. Still, you need a jurisdictional basis to be in federal court before you can pull the "removal" lever and a recent decision from the snow-bound trails of the Northern District of New York addressed this very issue.

The underlying case involves a gruesome and paralyzing injury following a dive from a recreational vessel into shallow water. Suit was brought in state court by the injured soul against the vessel owner alleging negligence. The defendants promptly tried to remove the lawsuit into federal court on the basis that admiralty jurisdiction applied. Admiralty claims always get you inside a federal courthouse.

However, the "removal" lever was pulled in error, the Court decided. Dissecting the claims in a thoughtful decision, the Court found the focal point of the boat owner's alleged negligence was failing to advise a passenger of the shallow depths. That focal point, the Court reasoned, did not have the potential to disrupt maritime commerce. Without being able to land the disruption argument, the Court was unable to find a basis for admiralty jurisdiction. The lawsuit was sent back (or "remanded") to be tried in state court.

There's more to the decision and it's the sort of decision I wouldn't be surprised is appealed. We'll see and I'll let you know if it is. You can find a copy by of the decision by following this link: http://nylawyer.nylj.com/adgifs/decisions15/021315sannes.pdf

John K. Fulweiler, Esq. is a Proctor-in-Admiralty representing individuals and small businesses in maritime matters including personal injury claims throughout the East and Gulf Coasts and with his office in Newport, Rhode Island. He can be reached at 1-800-383-MAYDAY (6293) or visit his website at www.saltwaterlaw.com.

Underway and making way.

--- JKF

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