Issues of Law Involving Water Complicated, Require Admiralty Understanding

At times accidents on bodies of water are governed by a unique set of federal laws called admiralty laws. The court will thus apply admiralty law as opposed to federal or state law. This law of the water plays an important part in the administration of justice in Louisiana because of the great amount of water-based industries operating out of the state, and the high potential for lawsuits to occur within these industries.

Whether or not admiralty law can or need be applied can be very important to cases because the different set of laws can actually change a party’s rights. For example, under admiralty law if you make a Rule 9(h) declaration designating your maritime claims as claims governed by admiralty jurisdiction, then there is no right to a jury trial, even where you could get a jury trial under state or federal law.

The application of admiralty law was recently at issue in the case Apache v. GlobalSantaFe Drilling Company. In this case, a mobile offshore drilling unit, owned by GlobalSantaFe, collided with an offshore oil and gas production platform, owned in part by Apache Corporation. Apache sued GlobalSantaFe to recover the damages caused to the platform. Apache asserted that the suit could be under both admiralty law and federal law.

Even though both parties requested a jury trial for the suit, GlobalSantaFe later decided it did not want a jury trial. Thus, GlobalSantaFe attempted to strike the requests for a jury trial by arguing that Apache had made a Rule 9(h) declaration, designating the claim for admiralty jurisdiction and losing the right to a jury trial.

Despite the fact that Apache had asserted the claim under both admiralty and federal law, the parties later stipulated to the fact that: “Apache did not make a 9(h) declaration.” In situations where it is not clear whether a party made a 9(h) declaration, courts look to the totality of the circumstances, considering, for example, whether the claim is viable under any other sector of law.

Here, not only is the claim viable under federal law, but the parties also stipulated to the fact that Apache did not make a 9(h) declaration. When a party stipulates to a fact it has made a formal concession. Thus, GlobalSantaFe is bound by its stipulation, and cannot strike the requests for a jury trial on the basis of Apache making a 9(h) declaration.

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