In the case of Welch v. Daniels decided October 31, 2016 by the First Circuit Court of Appeals for the State of Louisiana, the plaintiff-appellant, Eddy Welch, appealed a judgment rendered by the Nineteenth Judicial District Court. The trial court had sustained an exception of prescription in favor of the defendant, Jefferson Mark Daniels. The trial court ordered dismissal of Mr. Welch’s claims with prejudice and from which the plaintiff filed his appeal. The issue was whether or not the claim was a maritime tort.
By way of background, the traditional test for admiralty tort jurisdiction was based solely on whether the tort occurred on navigable waters. If the tort occurred on navigable waters, admiralty jurisdiction followed. If it did not, then admiralty jurisdiction did not follow. In 1948, Congress did away with the requirement that the injury be wholly sustained on navigable waters through its enactment of the Admiralty Extension Act, 46 USC § 740 (now re-designated 46 USC § 30101). The Admiralty Extension Act extended admiralty jurisdiction to certain injuries caused by a vessel on navigable waters but consummated on land.
Accordingly, a tort is maritime in nature and within admiralty tort jurisdiction only if it satisfies two tests.
First, 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. Second, the tort must bear a significant connection to a traditional maritime activity. This question of admiralty tort jurisdiction was determinative in this case with respect to the issue of whether Welch’s claims were subject to the three-year statute of limitations set forth under 46 USC § 30106 or the one year statute under Louisiana state law.
Welch claimed that mechanical problems required his boat be towed back to the dock for repairs. At the dock, while helping to prepare and secure the boat to remove it from the water, he cut his right arm on a part of the bimini top. Welch claimed the bimini top came undone because it was not in working order. Welch did not allege the boat was itself in the water at the time of the incident; rather, “[a]t the time of the accident and injury, the rear wheels of the trailer were still partially in the water, and had not yet been removed from the navigable waterway.”
The trial court and the appeals court found it dispositive for purposes of admiralty jurisdiction that Welch’s injury did not occur when the boat was on navigable water. Instead, the alleged tort took effect while the boat was on a trailer, at the boat launch, while the back wheels of the trailer were still partially submerged in the water.
As a result, the court found admiralty jurisdiction did not apply and the claim was prescribed under the one-year period for Louisiana.
Welch v. Daniels, — So.3d —-, 2016 WL 6427746, 2016-0311 (La.App. 1 Cir. 10/31/16)