Articles Tagged with maritime law firm

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On November 15, 2021, Federal District Judge Kenneth A. Marra remanded an injured maritime crewmember’s case from the Southern District of Florida back to Florida’s Fifteenth Judicial Circuit court, granting Zan Lang’s motion to remand his Jones Act negligence claims.  Maritime Attorney Thomas Graham at Leesfield Scolaro has the honor of representing the injured seaman in the case styled Zan Lang v. Allen Exploration and 6161 LLC, Case No.: 21-81813-CIV-MARRA.  The Jones Act case was originally filed in Florida State Court in West Palm Beach.  Shortly thereafter, the Defendants improperly removed the crewmember Jones Act case to federal court in the Southern District of Florida.  A motion to remand the Jones Act claims was filed, contesting Defendants’ removal of the case.

As alleged in the Complaint, Zan Lang was working as a crewmember onboard the M/Y Gigi and M/Y Axis, vessels owned and operated by Allen Exploration, during the time he was subjected to dangerous and unsafe conditions, overworked without the proper equipment, and caused to suffer serious injuries.  Allen Exploration, an American company, owns a fleet of vessels and operates a maritime treasure hunting operation.  As detailed in the Complaint, the U.S. home base for Allen Exploration is Rybovich Marina, located in West Palm Beach, Florida.  Crewmember Zan Lang worked for Allen Exploration for several months on land in West Palm Beach, Florida, before the underlying voyage began.  Despite the clear connection to Florida, Defendants attempted to remove the Jones Act action to federal court, claiming that Jamaican law should apply and the case should be dismissed.  Removal is the legal process of transferring a lawsuit filed in state court to the United States District Court.  To be entitled to removal Defendant must set forth a valid legal basis.  After removal a Plaintiff can seek to have the case transferred back to state court through a legal process known as remand.  Special rules and law for removal apply to maritime actions and crewmember Jones Act claims.

The order granting remand of Zan Lang’s Jones Act case flatly rejects Defendants legal arguments for removal and having the case heard in federal court, and establishes favorable law for crewmember plaintiffs who are hurt or injured and desire to bring a Jones Act claim against their maritime employer.  As a general legal matter, Jones Act claims cannot be removed to federal court.  Lewis v. Lewis & Clark, 531 U.S. 438, 455 (2001).  However, in Zan Lang’s case the defense attempted to argue that United States law should not apply to his claim, that he has no possibility of establishing a Jones Act claim on the merits, and the prohibition against removal of a Jones Act claim to federal court should therefore not apply.  The court also rejected the Defendants’ position that Zan Lang had an obligation to present affirmative evidence to establish the application of U.S. law at the remand stage, and rejected the application of a summary judgment style approach to resolution utilized in the federal Fifth Circuit, calling into question the holding in Lackey v. Atlantic Richfield Co., 990 F.2d 202 (5th Cir. 1993).  The court ruled that Zan Lang’s election to file his Jones Act lawsuit in West Palm Beach was legally proper, and that Defendants had failed to establish a legal basis to remove his Jones Act maritime negligence claim.

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51hYy2KWKwL._SX384_BO1,204,203,200_In the mid-nineteenth century, Congress passed the “Limitation Act” to induce capitalists to invest money in the maritime and shipping industries.  The Act achieves this purpose by exempting allegedly innocent vessel owners from any liability beyond the value of their vessel, i.e. “the limitation fund.”  In other words, where a vessel owner is not personally negligent, the full extent of his liability is the limitation fund.  The Act applies to all kinds of vessels, including commercial boats, pleasure yachts, and even jet skis.  Most commonly, the Limitation Act is invoked where a maritime accident is caused solely by the negligence of the vessel owner’s employee or agent.  When faced with liability, a vessel owner may file a petition for protection under the Limitation Act, which must be filed in federal court.

After the vessel owner deposits with the court an amount representing the full value of the vessel, the court issues a stay for all related claims against the vessel owner pending in any other forum, and directs all potential claimants to file their claims against the vessel owner in the federal court within a specified period of time.  See Fed. R. Civ. P. Supp. Rules F(3), F(4).  In a typical proceeding under the Limitation Act, if the vessel owner is found liable, but limitation is granted, the court distributes the limitation fund among the claimants in an equitable proceeding known as a “concursus.”

Without question, the Limitation Act is an antiquated doctrine that serves to deny justice to victims of horrific maritime accidents.  For instance, the owner of a large, successful maritime corporation (i.e. tow boat company, marine salvage company, jet ski rental company) may be entitled to significantly reduce the value of injury claims caused by their employees.  Additionally, injury victims are forced to bring their claims in admiralty jurisdiction upon the filing of a limitation petition, which deprives them of a jury trial.  As discussed below, there are exceptions to these harsh procedural hurdles that must be utilized in maritime injury cases.

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