Federal Laws Regarding Recreational boating accident
Federal law applies to a recreational boating accident when a lawsuit is brought in a federal district court based upon the federal court’s admiralty or diversity of citizenship jurisdiction. A federal court’s admiralty jurisdiction exists when the accident occurred on the high seas or on navigable waters. The high seas are waters that are within the jurisdiction of another country. Navigable waters are waters that are used in interstate or foreign commerce. Diversity of citizenship jurisdiction exists when the parties to the lawsuit are from different states.
The federal law that is used in admiralty cases is the federal admiralty law, which is also known as the general maritime law. This law is based upon the common law or the law that is developed by opinions that have been rendered by courts.
If the United States is a defendant in a recreational boating accident case, the Suits in Admiralty Act, the Public Vessels Act or the Death on the High Seas Act may apply. If a seaman is involved in the accident, the Jones Act may apply.
The Suits in Admiralty Act and the Public Vessels Act provide for a limited waiver of immunity on the part of the United States government. Under the Public Vessel Act, the U.S. government is liable for damages that are caused by a public vessel of the United States. Such damages include compensation for towing and salvage services that are rendered to the public vessel. Under the Suits in Admiralty Act, the U.S. government is liable only if a private person or private property was involved. Both acts only permit in personam proceedings against the United States government. They do not permit in rem proceedings or liens against the vessels or cargoes of the United States.
Only the U.S. government may be sued under the Suits in Admiralty Act. A separate government entity, such as the United States Coast Guard, cannot be sued under the Act.
Federal Tort Claims Act
Even if the United States is liable for a recreational boating accident under the Suits in Admiralty Act or the Public Vessels Act, a plaintiff must still meet the requirements of the Federal Tort Claims Act. In other words, the plaintiff must prove that the United States was engaged in a governmental function or duty, and not a discretionary function or duty, in order for the United States to waive its sovereign immunity.
The Death on the High Seas Act provides a cause of action for wrongful deaths that occur on the high seas. The high seas are defined under the Act as three miles from the shore of any state. The Act does not apply to wrongful deaths that occur within the territorial waters of the United States or within the waters of any individual state.
If an injured party is a seaman, the United States may be sued under the Jones Act. However, this Act only applies to seamen or to persons who are employed on a vessel. Therefore, it would be an unusual situation for the Jones Act to be applied to a recreational boating accident.
The Limitation of Liability Act is another federal law that may apply to a recreational boating accident. The Act allows the owner of a vessel to limit his or her liability to the value of the vessel or to the owner’s interest in the vessel. The Act applies to private vessels or pleasure boats. Under the Act, however, an owner cannot limit his or her liability if the loss occurred within the privity or knowledge of the owner. Privity means that the owner was personally responsible for the loss. The owner cannot limit his or her liability for cargo if the owner knew the true value of the cargo.
Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.