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Do maritime lawsuits have jurisdictions?

There's something about the sea that draws people to it. There are some who feel the need to spend a lifetime working on the water, whether fishing on a charter boat, working on board a cruise ship or serving in the military on a battleship. The fact of the matter is, the ocean is unpredictable, and situations can arise that result in legal disputes and litigation.

Maritime law — also known as admiralty law — establishes the rules and regulations for life on the water. Jurisdiction, in particular, can be complex when it comes to applying maritime law to specific cases, as a person's nationality and their location at the time of the incident can play a role in how the case can be disputed legally.

Case Study: Recent Lawsuit Filed In California Tells Of Trouble On The Indian Ocean

It's hard to imagine how terrifying it must be to be on board a vessel in the middle of the ocean, only to find out that the ship is going down and it's time to evacuate. Now, imagine in that same situation, the captain and several staff members abandon the ship without providing direction or making sure the passengers on board are safe and accounted for.

This is the situation that several surfers were faced with during a 2015 incident in the Indian Ocean. According to the Washington Post, five California surfers and three Australian surfers are alleging negligence, breach of contract, fraud and unjust enrichment on part of the company operating the charter boat, known as RipCurl. 

The surfers had booked a premier charter boat for a 14-day trip to the Mentawai Islands in the Indian Ocean, where they would seek out some of the most incredible waves in the world. Their trip was cut short, however, when equipment on board the boat malfunctioned and the boat began to quickly take on water in the middle of the night on the third day of their excursion. 

The lawsuit alleges that the captain panicked and abandoned the ship along with at least one crew member, leaving the rest of the passengers and crew to fend for themselves. It was the middle of the night, the seas were rough and all they had was a few surfboards and debris to cling to. Fortunately, all passengers survive, but now they are embattled in a legal dispute that will require the application of maritime law. 

Jurisdiction In Maritime Lawsuits

This case highlights the role that jurisdiction plays in maritime lawsuits. In maritime law, there are two types of jurisdiction:

  • Personal Jurisdiction — Personal jurisdiction refers to the court's ability to hear a case based on the party involved. For example, if the individual is U.S. citizen, then U.S. courts may be personal jurisdiction.
  • Subject Matter Jurisdiction — Subject matter jurisdiction refers to the basis of the lawsuit. For example, in maritime law, the subject matter jurisdiction can be disputed. Some may argue that the reasons for the lawsuit may not fall under that particular court's jurisdiction. 

Jurisdiction will often be determined by the court, and in most cases, federal courts will handle maritime cases dealing with international boundaries. Given the unique role that jurisdiction can play in maritime lawsuits, it's necessary to work with an attorney who understands the complexities of maritime law.

Facing A Maritime Dispute? Hire An Experienced Attorney Today

Compared to other facets of the law, maritime law can be particularly complex. It's imperative that you hire an attorney who is experienced in maritime or admiralty law, as they will be able to best advocate for you and provide you with the results that you need. For more information on what you need to do to move forward with your case, contact us today to set up a consultation appointment.

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