Admiralty Claims – When filing a claim under the Jones Act or General Maritime Law, the seaman has the opportunity and right, to designate the case on the admiralty or civil docket. This is accomplished either through the language of the pleading or by actually designating in the style of the case that the claim is brought pursuant to Rule 9(h) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides:
Within the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, a pleading or count sets forth a claim for relief. Within the jurisdiction of the district court on some other ground may contain a statement identifying the claim as an admiralty or maritime for the purposes of Rules 14(c), 38(e), 82, and the Supplemental Rules for Certain Admiralty and Maritime Claims. The amendment of a pleading to add or withdraw an identifying statement is governed by the principles of Rule 15.
Under the terms of Rule 9(h), it is the Plaintiffs choice whether to designate a claim as admiralty. When a Complaint is clearly filed without an admiralty designation, or when a jury trial is requested in the Complaint, a plaintiff may proceed on the law side of the federal court docket despite the admiralty nature of the claim. To confuse matters further, the initial designation does not bind the seaman in his claim. A claimant's admiralty designation is not irrevocable, nor is he bound by a failure to plead the designation. Under Rule 9(h), a plaintiff may amend the pleading of the admiralty designation in keeping with the requirements of Rule 15.
Perhaps the most notable effect of pleading with admiralty designation is that there is no right to trial by jury in admiralty. Although Rule 38(a) states that "[t]he right of trial by jury as declared by the Seventh Amendment to the Constitution or as given by a statute of the United States shall be preserved to the parties inviolate" ; section (e) clarifies that "[t]hese rules shall not be construed to create a right to trial by jury of the issues in an admiralty or maritime claim within the meaning of Rule 9(h)." Therefore, a Complaint filed with a 9(h) designation will proceed as a bench proceeding before the judge and any subsequent request by the defendant for a jury trial will be denied. If a maritime action is brought in federal court pursuant to the saving to suitors clause under the court's diversity jurisdiction, without Admiralty designation, and a demand for jury trial is made, the case will be tried to a jury under the provisions of Rule 38(a) and the Seventh Amendment.
While the seaman's choice to designate a claim in admiralty under Rule 9(h) it provides certain benefits to the seaman, and gives rise to certain rights for the defendant. The most important right allowed to defendants in admiralty cases is the right to designate a third-party defendant under Rule 14(c)
Rule 14(c) allows the defendant in an admiralty claim to join a third party in the suit and demand judgment against that third party in favor of the plaintiff for any liability owed to the plaintiff. This action by the defendant forces the third-party defendant to fully defend the claim and the matter then proceeds against all defendants, as if the plaintiff had commenced the action against all parties jointly.
This allowance stems from the broad rules applied to third-party joiner permitted in the admiralty practice prior to the 1966 amendments. The rule is significant because of the strict adherence to comparative allocation of fault as followed in admiralty claims. If a Plaintiff is bringing a claim against a vessel and not the potentially liable defendant companies, or against one potential defendant and not another, Rule 14(c) provides an avenue for the named defendant to bring all potentially liable entities before the court.
The pleading of a 9(h) designation by the Plaintiff only triggers the provisions of Rule 14(c), unless the cause of action is one that is only cognizable in admiralty. The third-party defendant need not be liable to Plaintiff under a maritime cause of action to be brought into the matter under a 14(c) designation. For instance, the third-party defendant may be a manufacturer liable to the Plaintiff under a products liability theory but may still be named and placed before the court for the purpose of allocating proportionate fault.
Failure to designate a complaint in admiralty can affect the final monetary award received by a plaintiff. Prejudgment interest is allowed and awarded. The same is not true for cases brought on the law side of the docket. This is particularly important for Jones Act seamen bringing claims under the terms of the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 688 and the General Maritime Law doctrines of unseaworthiness and for maintenance and cure. If the Jones Act claim is not pursued in admiralty but is pursued on the law docket to allow the plaintiff a jury trial, he will not be entitled to receive prejudgment interest on the Jones Act award. However to the extent that the recoveries can be apportioned to the separate causes of action, the court may have the discretion to award interest on the amount recovered under the General Maritime Law.
The choice of forums and whether to file with an admiralty designation for your Jones Act and General Maritime claim will be the most important decisions that will be made in your case. Decisions will be the result of research performed by your attorney, taking into consideration jurisdictional constraints, the experience of the jurists in Admiralty and Maritime matters, the volume of the court's docket and relative time of the trial track, and potential juror demographics. You should rely heavily on your attorney's experience and knowledge and defer to their expertise in these areas. These decisions should not be made lightly as they will affect the entire litigation process.
If you live in Houston or no matter where you live, the lawyers and attorneys at Briggle & Polan, PLLC can help you get the help you need. If you would like, a lawyer or an attorney can contact you to answer your questions. There is no obligation and the initial phone call is always free of charge. Call toll free 1-866-247-HELP, or send us an email. Call today and let us help you understand how admiralty claims can enhance your maritime claim.
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