Activities on the water carry inherent risks. If you are injured while on the water, laws of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction generally rule. There are also allowances to invoke admiralty jurisdiction for injuries on land. To do so, one must satisfy conditions of both location and connection with maritime activity. But what happens if you are injured on a boat on land? Can you file a lawsuit with maritime claims? The following lawsuit out of Manchac, Louisiana, helps answer this question in the context of a prescription argument.
Eddy Welch filed a lawsuit in October of 2013 against Jefferson Daniels to recover damages from bodily injuries he sustained from being a guest passenger on Daniel’s boat. While Welch attempted to come down from the boat’s upper level, a piece of steel rail caught his arm, and he sustained injuries. Welch claimed the injury was from a defect that posed an unreasonable and foreseeable risk of harm.
Procedural jostling caused Welch’s lawsuit to be transferred to another parish. Welch subsequently filed his amended petition with the new trial court, stating the incident falls under admiralty jurisdiction. Daniels then filed a motion for summary judgment and exception of prescription set forth under La. C.C. art. 3492.
We usually hear the words statute of Limitations when it comes to lawsuits. However, in Louisiana, the word prescription takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to law. Prescription in Louisiana refers to the amount of time in which a party can file a lawsuit; another term for the statute of limitations. An exception of prescription is a motion that asks the court to dismiss the lawsuit due to the parties not abiding by procedural guidelines, or the lawsuit was filed late.
The trial court granted Daniels’s motion and dismissed Welch’s case holding it was not an admiralty case and, therefore, it was filed untimely. Unhappy with the trial court’s ruling, Welch appealed to Court of Appeal for the First Circuit.
Welch argued that admiralty and maritime tort claims are subject instead to a three-year prescriptive period, as opposed to a one-year. He also claimed the trial court was in error for failing to consider the affidavits that Welch provided, which would establish that he was injured on the vessel while still on a navigable waterway; therefore, he fell into a maritime tort. The Court of Appeals looked at whether the trial court erred in determining that Welch’s claims against Daniels were subject to, and therefore prescribed, under Louisiana law.
First, the appeals court looked to the rules outlined in the Louisiana Civil Code concerning prescription and if Welch’s claims fell under an admiralty tort. The traditional way of determining if a tort was within an admiralty jurisdiction was whether the tort occurred on navigable waters. Jerome B. Grubart, Inc. v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. However, Congress amended this requirement in 1948 to include the Admiralty Extension Act, 46 USC § 740. This extended the requirements to include injuries produced by a vessel on navigable waters but completed on land. 46 USC § 30101(a).
The appellate court explained that for a tort to be of a maritime nature, (1) the tort must have occurred on navigable waters or, if the injury is suffered on land, must have been caused by a vessel on navigable waters and (2) the tort must bear a significant connection to a traditional maritime activity. Because the alleged wrong did not occur on navigable water, nor did the injury suffered on land have a significant connection to traditional maritime activity. Therefore, the court reasoned there was no basis for invoking the admiralty jurisdiction.
Additionally, the appellate court looked at the affidavits that Daniels submitted, acknowledging that Welch injured himself while trying to get off the boat. Therefore, the boat was on a trailer on dry land, not navigable waters. Welch’s affidavits stated that due to mechanical problems, while the boat was on navigable waters, the boat had to be docked, and while helping to remove the boat from the water is when the injury occurred. Welch did not dispute Daniel’s statement the injury occurred while the boat was in unnavigable water, and Welch failed to mention the injury occurred when the boat was on navigable water.
The appellate court, therefore, found the alleged tort brought by Welch was subject to the prescriptive rules set under Louisiana law and the trial court correctly awarded the exception of prescription in favor of Daniels. This meant Welch’s lawsuit was filed untimely and was dismissed. While every case is fact specific, this ruling helped answer the question, “if you are injured on a boat on land, can I file a maritime lawsuit?” The answer is no, unless the injury suffered on land has a significant connection to traditional maritime activity.
Additional Sources: EDDY WELCH VERSUS JEFFERSON MARK DANIELS
Written by Berniard Law Firm Writer Brianna Saroli
Additional Berniard Articles on Martime and Admiralty Issues: Employers Potentially Liable After Seaman Injured on Tugboat