How Admiralty Jurisdiction May Apply to Your Florida Boat Accident Case

Recreational boat accidents are a common occurrence on Florida waterways. In some cases a boat accident may fall under what is known as admiralty jurisdiction. This refers to a body of federal law governing tort claims that involve “maritime activity” and which occur on the “navigable waters” of the United States. A personal injury claim that meets these requirements is tried in federal court, which has exclusive jurisdiction over admiralty cases.

Obstructed Canal Not a “Navigable Water”

But what constitutes a “navigable water”? A recent decision by the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over all admiralty cases tried in Florida, addressed that question. The case itself involves a recreational boat passenger who suffered horrific injuries on a local waterway.

The incident occurred in July 2013. The plaintiff was a passenger on a “pleasure boat” making a cruise in Miami-Dade County. The vessel was traveling along an inland canal known as the Tamiami Canal. It then moved into one of the canal’s tributaries, the Coral Park Canal. The Tamiami Canal itself flows into the Miami River, and through Biscayne Bay into the Atlantic Ocean.

According to the plaintiff, the boat moved underneath a bridge that spanned over the Coral Park Canal. There was an exposed water pipe mounted underneath and running parallel to the bridge. The plaintiff said he could not see the pipe. When the boat passed underneath the bridge, the plaintiff’s head struck the pipe, throwing him off the boat and into the canal. The plaintiff suffered significant injuries as a result of this trauma, including a skull fracture and loss of vision.

The plaintiff filed suit in federal court against Miami-Dade County, which owns the Coral Park Canal, for negligence. The county argued admiralty jurisdiction did not apply to this case. While the county conceded the plaintiff’s injuries occurred during a “maritime activity,” it said the Coral Park Canal did not constitute a “navigable water” because it was not a waterway capable of use in interstate commerce.

The courts agreed with the county. In an August 3 decision upholding a lower court’s decision to dismiss the plaintiff’s lawsuit, the 11th Circuit said there was a man-made obstruction within the Coral Park Canal that effectively removed it from admiralty jurisdiction. This obstruction—a “water control structure”—prevents boats from “traveling outside the State of Florida.” Admiralty jurisdiction only exists where the tort occurs on a waterway that is, or can be used as, an interstate highway.

Get Help From a Florida Boat Accident Attorney

Many types of personal injury claims succeed or fail based on proper invocation of a court’s jurisdiction to hear the case. This is why if you have been injured in a boat accident or any other situation, it is important you work with an experienced Clearwater personal injury attorney who understands the law and will fight to ensure you get your day in court. Contact the Law Office of Paul B. Genet, P.A., today at 727-510-8802 if you need to speak with a lawyer right away.

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