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Legal Blog

When State or Maritime Law Applies

If you've been hurt working on a boat like one of these, contact our maritime lawyers today.

Federal maritime law generally governs legal actions involving injuries at sea, in port, or on an oil rig. Although many maritime injury cases are heard in state court, these courts must apply the principles of federal maritime law. However, state law may govern some aspects of the compensation process in state court. The intersection of state and federal maritime law is complex and constantly shaped by new cases. That is why it’s essential for you to work with the experienced Houston maritime lawyers at The Krist Law Firm, P.C.

Call us today at (281) 283-8500 to schedule a free, initial case consultation.

Maritime Lawsuits Based in Federal Law Can be Filed in State Courts

Article III, Section 2 of the United States Constitution puts maritime and admiralty cases under the jurisdiction of United States federal courts. Congress further specified that this jurisdiction exists over “all cases of damage or injury, to person or property, caused by a vessel on navigable water, notwithstanding that such damage or injury be done or consummated on land.”

However, a plaintiff may file a lawsuit in state court, even if the claim is based in federal maritime law. This means that if you are an injured sailor, you may file a Jones Act lawsuit in either a Texas or federal court. Similarly, an injured oil rig or dock worker may also sue in state court, even if their claims are based in the federal Continental Shelf Lands Act or Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act.

A State Court May Apply State Law When Adjudicating Federal Maritime Cases

Legal cases involve two kinds of law: procedural and substantive. Procedural law dictates how the court will hear the case. Substantive law, on the other hand, dictates how people can or should behave. For example, the Jones Act is substantive in that it gives a sailor the right to sue a negligent ship owner. The rules of evidence, on the other hand, are procedural because they dictate how a court may hear evidence in a legal case.

When a state court hears a federal case, it must apply federal law on substantive matters, even if the federal law contradicts state law. However, the state court is free to apply its own procedural law. In fact, it must use its own procedural rules because there is no basis for a state court to apply federal procedural law.

How might this affect you? Generally, state courts are considered to favor plaintiffs slightly more than federal courts. Federal procedure tends to make it more difficult for injured plaintiffs to successfully prove their cases, since there may be more intermediate steps between filing a lawsuit and going to trial.

The substantive federal laws that state courts apply in maritime law cases can be beneficial to a plaintiff. Beyond the fact that federal law gives a sailor the right to sue for negligence in the first place, federal law also includes the concept of joint and several liability, which is not recognized by most states. This doctrine states that each party that contributed to your injury is equally liable for your injuries, no matter how minimal that contribution may have been.

How Our Houston Maritime Lawyers Can Help

Choosing between federal and state court is an important decision in your maritime injury case. In practice, the way maritime cases are handled varies between state and federal courts, even if the same laws are generally being applied. When there is a question about whether state or federal law applies to your case, you want the help of a seasoned Houston maritime lawyer. At The Krist Law Firm, P.C., we are dedicated to helping maritime workers obtain compensation after an injury.

To learn more about how we can help, contact us today at (281) 283-8500 for a free consultation.