Monday, January 18, 2010

Juries and the Jones Act

This is from the Supreme of Washington Blog: Endicott v. Icicle Seafoods, Inc., No. 82635-8. The Jones Act is a federal law that allows an injured seaman to sue his employer for negligence. Here, Justin Endicott's arm was crushed by a fish cart aboard Icicle Seafood's ship "Bering Star." He sued in King County Superior Court under the Jones Act and the doctrine of unseaworthiness. The Superior Court allowed Endicott to opt for a bench trial (no jury) and ruled for him on both claims. Icicle appeals on four grounds; the Court today addresses two: the bench trial and an award of prejudgment interest. The decision is unanimous, and the opinion, written by Justice Stephens, includes a summary of the history of the Jones Act. On the jury trial question, the Ninth Circuit and California have held that the Jones Act grants plaintiffs "a substantive federal right to elect the mode of trial," while the Fifth and Seventh Circuits, Louisiana, and California, have found that while the plaintiff can choose "the jurisdictional basis of trial (in admiralty vs. at law) ... jury trial rights flow from this election as procedural incidents." While the trial court adopted the Ninth Circuit position, the State Supreme Court today sides with the Fifth and Seventh Circuits. The Court holds that while the Jones Act grants Endicott the right to bring his case in state court, once he has made that decision, Washington's constitutional right to a jury trial applies. The prejudgment interest award is upheld, but only because it is permitted in a bench trial. The case is remanded for a new trial. (briefs and argument)

No comments: