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Many attorneys, and even judges, believe that an Admiralty and Maritime claim can only be brought in the Federal Court. However, this is not necessarily correct. There are certain claims that only can be brought in Federal Court under the Admiralty and Maritime jurisdiction of the Federal Court, such as a claim called an In Rem action in which a vessel is being sued under procedures that apply to special Admiralty. Jurisdiction of such claims, however, most personal injury and wrongful death claims are brought against an individual or corporation, and are called In-Personam claims. The constitutional grant of Admiralty jurisdiction to the Federal Courts contains what is called the saving to suitor's clause, which preserves the rights to file an action in the State Court, and also to file an action in Federal Court alleging diversity jurisdiction instead of alleging Admiralty jurisdiction. The significance of this is that when a claim is filed under the Admiralty and Maritime jurisdiction of a Federal Court, there is no right to a jury trial. However, if the saving to suitor's clause is utilized to file an In-Personam claim under diversity jurisdiction in a Federal Court, or an In Personam claim in the State Court, a jury trial may be obtained.
Federal subject matter jurisdiction is limited and must be conferred by Congress within the bounds of the Constitution. The subject matter jurisdiction of the Federal Court cannot be obtained by waiver or consent of the parties.
Since the Federal Courts do have Admiralty and Maritime jurisdiction, the cruise ship companies have taken advantage of this by inserting what is called a forum selection clause in the passenger tickets. The passenger tickets issued when you go on a cruise is considered a contract, and there are important terms and conditions that must be carefully considered, including any requirements as to where a lawsuit against the cruise ship company must be brought.
The cruise ship companies are inserting clauses that require the lawsuit to be filed in the Federal Court under the Admiralty and Maritime jurisdiction of the Federal Courts. If there is no diversity jurisdiction to allege in the Federal Courts, an individual pursuing a case against the cruise ship company in Federal Court may be limited to the Admiralty and Maritime jurisdiction of the Federal Court, and therefore lose the right to a jury trial.
Jurisdiction over Admiralty and Maritime claims, and the proper forum that the lawsuits must be filed, are part of the complexities of Admiralty and Maritime jurisdiction. If you suffer an injury that may involve Admiralty and Maritime jurisdiction, it is important to consult with an experienced Admiralty and Maritime attorney who is familiar with all of the complexities and case law that applies to resolutions of the complex legal issues.