In many personal injury actions which happen on a boat or on the water, the value of the case and the way lawyers approach the case depends on whether maritime law applies. Originally, maritime or admiralty law was applicable when any claim arose upon the navigable waters of the United States. The Plymouth, 70 U.S. 30 (1866). However, several U.S. Supreme Court cases have changed this rule.
Executive Jet Aviation, Inc. v. City of Cleveland, 409 U.S. 249 (1972): A plane taking off from a runway hit a flock of birds, lost engine power, and crashed into Lake Erie, sinking to its bottom. The plaintiffs sought damages under traditional maritime jurisdiction. The Supreme Court held that, for maritime law to be applicable, a court must find, not only that the action accrued upon or in navigable waters, but that the incident alleged in the claim bears a “significant relationship to traditional maritime activity.”
Foremost Insurance Co. v. Richardson, 457 U.S. 668 (1982): Two pleasure boats collided, resulting in the death of a passenger in one of the boats. The Supreme Court held that the collision was actionable under maritime jurisdiction because there is no requirement that maritime activity be an exclusively commercial one. All operations of vessels on navigable waters are subject to uniform rules of conduct. The Court held that “[b]ecause the ‘wrong’ here involves the negligent operation of a vessel on navigable waters . . . it has a sufficient nexus to traditional maritime activity to sustain admiralty jurisdiction.”
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