When a person operating a boat does so negligently and that negligence leads to another person’s injury, the boat operator may be liable for damages. Such liability can even extend to a boater trying to rescue others from a sinking ship. In Durden v. Dickens, the District Court for the Middle District of Florida explains that a simple negligence claim arising from a Florida boating accident should typically be filed in state, rather than federal, court.
Ciara Puskas died when the 20′ Sea Ray on which she was a passenger capsized on Lake George. Several of the other passengers were rescued with the help of Coast Guard sailors and two privately-owned nearby boats. The personal representatives for Puskas’ estate sued the captain of one of those boats, Jon Dickens, alleging that his negligent actions trapped Puskas and other passengers in the sinking boat’s cabin. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that Dickens’ negligently attached a tow line to his boat’s handrail, which ultimately broke during the tow, turning the sunken vessel over and eliminating an air pocket in the cabin.
The suit was originally filed in state court in Volusia County and then removed by Defendant to federal court in the Middle District. Plaintiffs then filed a motion to remand, arguing that the federal court lacks jurisdiction over the subject matter of their complaint. Federal courts typically have jurisdiction to hear cases arising under federal law or involving parties from different states.
The Court granted Plaintiffs’ motion, finding that their complaint did not sufficiently implicate federal law in order to give the court jurisdiction. Although Plaintiffs claimed that Dickens owed Puskas a non-delegable duty under international and federal law to provide assistance at sea, the Court ruled that “a mere reference to federal law is not enough to establish federal question jurisdiction.” Rather, “a case arises under federal law where federal law creates the cause of action or where a substantial disputed issue of federal law is a necessary element of a state law claim,” according to the Court.
In this case, the Court read Plaintiffs’ complaint as raising general negligence claims, which arise under state law and do not require an interpretation of any federal statutes. As a result, the removal of the case from state court was improper.
Although the Court further noted that Plaintiffs appeared to be improperly splitting their claims – suing the owner of Dickens’ boat in a separate federal action and Dickens in the present state action – it concluded that this may be a grounds for dismissal of the action in state court, but did not give the Court jurisdiction over the action.
As a result, the Court remanded the case to state court.
The South Florida boat accident lawyers at Anidjar & Levine pride themselves in responsive, diligent, and cost-effective representation of clients throughout the area, including in Boca Raton, Pompano Beach and Fort Lauderdale. The firm’s client-centered approach, combined with vast personal injury experience, will help you to safely and confidently navigate the judicial system’s waters after a boating accident.
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