Understanding Jurisdiction in Admiralty and Maritime Law

Admiralty jurisdiction, founded on the U. S. Constitution, deals with any and all issues associated with marine navigation and commerce, the transportation of both passengers and goods by sea, all shipping matters, and all issues related to sailors. It allows state courts concurrent jurisdiction through the “Savings to Suitors” clause in certain cases. However, federal courts have the right to exclusive admiralty jurisdiction over certain remedies like the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, the Limitation of Ship-owners Liability Act, the Suits in Admiralty Act, and others.

What is the “Savings to Suitors” clause?

This clause allows some maritime court claims to be filed in a state court rather than requiring a federal court. Examples include cases in which seamen are injured.


What damages could maritime workers be entitled to recover either in state or federal courts?

Injured seamen and other maritime workers are entitled to file a lawsuit in either state or federal courts and recover damages for matters such as:

  • Current and future medical bills
  • Lost earnings and loss of future earnings
  • Pain and suffering
  • Other losses and expenses

In general terms, individuals may file in state court for claims against an individual while cases against a vessel need to be filed in federal courts. In federal courts, the plaintiff may choose whether to pursue a judge or jury trial.

What are Admiralty and Maritime Courts?

These are courts that exercise jurisdiction over all maritime contracts, offenses, injuries, and torts, and admit civil actions for matters that are related to the sea and all ships. Official jurisdiction for admiralty cases, however, is in the hands of federal district courts, which are referred to as admiralty courts when exercising admiralty jurisdiction, as conferred by the U. S. Constitution. These courts do not use juries and have specific and unique rules of court.

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The main issues that arise in admiralty courts deal with collisions at sea, shipping, boating insurance matters, cargo, salvage claims, marine pollution, and civil matters that involve seamen.

What is Admiralty or Maritime law?

Admiralty or Maritime law is the body of law that governs both procedural and substantive issues that relate to navigation and shipping. This field of work may include such topics as:

  • Navigation
  • Shipping
  • Waters
  • Canals
  • Commerce
  • Towage
  • Wharves
  • Seamen
  • Piers and docks
  • Recreation
  • Ship hijacking or piracy

The Courts and Congress have sought to create a body of admiralty law that fits both national and international criteria in order to enable and simplify commerce among all nations. Before, American Admiralty law applied exclusively to American tidal waters. These days, it extends to any body of water that is seaworthy within the United States and stretches to encompass interstate and foreign commerce.

How does admiralty determine the source of law?

The flag that the ship is flying is what determines the source of law, no matter where it is located at the time the conflict arises.

A Maritime Attorney Will Offer You the Legal Help You Need

Admiralty and Maritime Law can be very complicated. Click here to read more about maritime law. Now, if you have suffered a maritime injury, your maritime attorney will determine what options are available to you, evaluate and prepare your case, and explain the impact of the Savings to Suitors clause on your case. Make an appointment today to get started.

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