Seamen who are injured while working at sea have a legal right to seek damages under the Jones Act. While maritime claims often fall to federal courts, injured workers can choose to file their claim in a state court under the Savings to Suitors Clause in Admiralty Law.

The Savings to Suitors Clause

The U.S. Constitution and the Judiciary Act of 1789 give federal courts jurisdiction over maritime cases. However, according to clause 28 U.S. Code §1333, the Act states that:

“The district courts shall have original jurisdiction, exclusive of the courts of the States, of… Any civil case of admiralty or maritime jurisdiction, saving to suitors in all cases all other remedies to which they are otherwise entitled…”

The first part of section 1333 indicates that federal courts, rather than state courts, have jurisdiction over maritime cases. Certain maritime injury and death claims can only be filed in federal court, including cases where the vessel itself is being sued.

The second part of section 1333, however, known as the Savings to Suitors Clause, gives injured maritime workers the right to pursue certain claims in state court, rather than federal court, even if the case falls under admiralty jurisdiction.

The Savings to Suitors Clause provides jurisdiction to state courts in cases that usually involve minor personal injury that could be resolved by common law. When a state court hears a maritime case, the court typically applies federal admiralty law to that case.

It’s important to know that in federal court, jury trials are usually not permitted. However, claims brought under the Jones Act typically allow for a jury trial. It’s up to the injured maritime worker to choose whether to pursue a judge or jury trial.

Determining Whether to File a Claim in State or Federal Court

The decision of whether to file a claim in state or federal court can have a major impact on the outcome of a maritime injury case. Since state and federal maritime and admiralty laws differ, different types and amounts of compensation may be available, depending on which laws are applied to a case.

If you’ve been seriously injured due to a maritime accident, Montagna Maritime Law can help you understand the Savings to Suitors Clause, explain how it applies to your case, and determine whether your case should be pursued in state or federal court. Our attorneys are experienced working across state and federal maritime laws and will build a solid case to help you get the compensation you deserve under maritime law.