Federal Jurisdiction in Recreational Boating Accidents

Posted on : August 24, 2018
Boating Accidents In Texas, Attorneys Bevel Gould

Have You Been Involved In A Boating Accident?

Texas has a variety of ideal boating destinations with our beautiful lakes and rivers. Navigating these waters are highly enjoyable but can also be very dangerous. Boating accidents occur for a variety of reasons and often cause serious, even fatal injuries. Texans injured while on the open water or on a shore or dock need to be aware that their claims may be subject to an intricate set of rules known as maritime or admiralty law.

Maritime law falls under federal jurisdiction, which generally means that any legal claims and trials must be handled by a federal court. Due to the complexities involved, it is important to consult a maritime attorney to help you understand what conditions must be met for maritime law to apply to your case.


Maritime law, often called admiralty law, is a set of legal rules and regulations intended to settle legal issues associated with accidents and injuries on the water. The purview of maritime law was once restricted to commercial vessels on the high seas or in international waters but has now expanded to include all vessels on navigable waters.  Owners and operators must abide by the same “rules of the road” regardless of the size or purpose of the vessel. In other words,  it’s possible for a recreational sailboat to be subject to the same maritime law as an ocean-going freighter.

Claims where the maritime law may apply includes:

  • vessel collisions
  • boating collisions with fixed objects
  • slip and falls on vessels
  • boats/jet skis striking swimmers
  • watercraft rental injuries
  • parasail accidents
  • dockside accidents
  • cruise ship injuries
  • chartered fishing boats


Before legal action can commence, a boating accident lawyer must first determine whether state tort law or federal admiralty law has jurisdiction over the case. A case will fall within federal admiralty jurisdiction if it meets the “locality” and “nexus” tests:

  • Locality test: the accident occurred on or near navigable waters
    • navigable waters refer to all bodies of water that are either currently used for interstate or foreign commerce or are capable of being used for interstate or foreign commerce. Maritime law applies to rivers that flow across state lines or into the ocean. Inland lakes that are landlocked within the boundaries of the state would not be considered navigable unless part of an interstate waterway system.
  • Nexus test: the nature of the activity causing the accident has a nexus or connection with traditional maritime activities and has the potential to disrupt maritime commerce


Cases that are filed in federal court under the admiralty jurisdiction of the court are separated into two categories – what is called an in rem action which is against the vessel itself, and in personam actions which are generally against the vessel owner or operator.

Timeframe For Filing A Claim May Be Shorter – If your claim is a maritime claim, the statute of limitations is usually shorter than under most State Court claims.

Liability May Be Limited – Liability under maritime law is governed under the Limitation of Liability Act in federal court. This statute enables the owner of a vessel involved in an accident to limit their liability to the actual value of the vessel or to the owner’s interest in the vessel but only if the negligence resulting in injury or death occurred without the owner’s participation or knowledge.


Posted in : Gregory H. Bevel

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