Maritime Law Applied to Plaintiffs’ Claims and State Court Filing Retained Plaintiffs’ Right to a Jury Trial

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In this federal court case, defendant Crane asserted that state law should apply to some aspects of plaintiffs’ claims, while the parties appeared to agree that maritime law applied generally to the matter.  The court examined this case sua sponte on the issue of whether maritime or state law governed the remaining claims of the plaintiffs, and whether the plaintiffs have a right to a jury trial.  The court found that maritime law applied and trial would be before a jury.

In applying the locality and connection tests, the facts of this case were similar to those in cases cited by the plaintiff in support of the application of maritime law – asbestos exposure while on board ships on navigable waters, and while under repair or construction at drydock.  Crane argued for the application of state law where it does not conflict with maritime law on the issues of duty and causation. Crane failed to convince the court on this argument as it failed to cite to a decision in another case in which it was a defendant facing similar allegations and where the court found maritime law should be applied.

Further, Crane argued that the plaintiffs lost their right to a jury trial since they changed their stance on which law applied in the midst of the litigation.  The court disagreed.  The court cited case law in that:  “…a plaintiff with in personam maritime claims has three choices:  He may file suit in federal court under the federal court’s admiralty jurisdiction, in federal court under diversity jurisdiction if the parties are diverse and the amount in controversy is satisfied, or in state court. The difference between these choices is mostly procedural; of greatest significance is that there is no right to jury trial if general admiralty jurisdiction is invoked, while it is preserved for claims based in diversity or brought in state court.”  The plaintiffs never invoked admiralty jurisdiction, and filed in state court, therefore retained their right to trial by jury.

Read the full decision here.