The question here is if Federal maritime law applies to cases resulting from accidents on navigable waters? The U.S. Constitution gives the federal government exclusive jurisdiction over navigable waters. Even if a lake is entirely within a state, the federal government may have jurisdiction. The Courts answer this question with a test in Kaiser Aetna v. the United States, 444 U.S. 164, 100 S. Ct. 383, 62 L. Ed. 2d 332 (1979)
The facts of this case are that Respondent the federal government brought an action against petitioner marina owners alleging that, when they converted their private pond into a marina and connected it to a bay on the ocean, it became subject to Respondent’s navigational servitude. The court reversed a decision in favor of Respondent and found that, although petitioners’ pond fell within the historical definition of navigable waters used in determining disputes under § 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899, 33 U.S.C.S. § 403, the navigational servitude did not create a blanket exception to the takings clause of U.S. Const. Amend. V whenever Congress exercised its authority to promote navigation.
The rule that came out of that case was that one of the essential sticks in the bundle of rights commonly characterized as property is the right to exclude others. The issue, in this case, was whether the required public access to the marina joined to the bay as a result of the private development of an inland lagoon necessitates the exercise of eminent domain power and payment of just compensation? The court here stated that the petitioner’s property had not been capable of navigation before they modified it, that it was not the sort of navigable body previously recognized as being incapable of private ownership, and, therefore, the petitioner’s interest was similar to that of owners of fast land adjacent to navigable water. Petitioners had several property expectancies that Respondent would have to condemn and pay for before taking over the management and allowing public access to the marina.
It’s not always easy to determine whether a lake is navigable or not to determine the applicability of maritime law to a case. The court in Aetna stated that a waterway is navigable if it: (1) Is subject to the ebb and flow of the tide, (2) Connects to a continuous interstate waterway, (3) Has navigable capacity, (4) Is navigable. The court will consider the lake navigable if the above requirements are met.
If your injury occurred on navigable lakes, the compensation process would unfold under federal law. Should litigation be necessary to get you the compensation you deserve, your case will likely be held in a federal court. In other words, your lawsuit will be completely different from what most lawyers are used to. That’s why you should seek the assistance of a lawyer with significant experience in maritime law.
Our attorneys are well versed in the intricacies of maritime law and frequently handle high-stakes maritime law cases. This focus enables us to maximize the recovery from maritime accidents.
At Houston Injury Lawyers, P.L.L.C., our firm focuses on representing those who have suffered a personal injury through the entire recovery process – physical, emotional, and financial recovery from injuries. We help clients tip the balance of justice into their favor through our years of experience and expertise and our vigorous representation of injured clients. Our care and preparation are the keys to our success. The lawyers at Houston Injury Lawyers, P.L.L.C., can help you navigate this issue and answer any questions that you may have. If you would like to speak to someone about your situation or for a free consultation, call our office at (713) 366-HURT (4878)—Tip the Balance in Your Favor.