Part of the niche that is maritime law is that it is intertwined with various international players and regulations. United States law, when it accounts for maritime law, often considers how other jurisdictions will handle certain matters. The recent case of Nazareth v. McDermott in a Texas Appellate court highlights a distinct interplay between U.S. maritime law and international considerations.
Domestic law contrasts with international law. Elected or appointed lawmakers create domestic law; international law is based on treaties. Domestic law is usually backed by an enforcement regime to give the law teeth; international law is somewhat handicapped wherein enforcement can be an issue.
Another important distinction is that domestic law usually does not account for many nuances found in other jurisdictions. While domestic law will often consider and reciprocate to another jurisdiction, there are often limitations. The Nazareth case is one that demonstrates such limitations.
Nazareth v. McDermott
Nazareth is a citizen of India and is also a resident of India. He was employed by a subsidiary of McDermott, which is a large U.S. shipping company. While working on a ship that was crossing the Arabian Sea, he was injured. The injury occurred in Qatar’s territorial waters. He blames the injury on the negligence of McDermott and brought a suit under the Jones Act.
McDermott is a Texas-domiciled company and, in theory, may be brought into any court in the state of Texas as its proper jurisdiction. This case, however, is different.
Under U.S. maritime law, a person who is working on a ship can be eligible for relief under the Jones Act even if he is not a citizen or resident of the United States. The proposed injury need not occur within the United States territorial waters. however, there are limitations. The limitations are when the person seeking relief is eligible for relief in the person’s home country or in the jurisdiction where the accident occurred.
Nazareth wanted to bring McDermott to court and tried unsuccessfully in both India and Qatar. Courts in both jurisdictions refused to hear the case because of concerns whether there was jurisdiction over McDermott.
Nazareth then brought the suit in a Texas court, claiming that he is not eligible for relief in Qatar and India and is therefore eligible under the Jones Act. McDermott moved for summary judgement and it was granted. Upon appeal, the Appellate Court upheld the lower court’s ruling, reasoning that both Qatar and India provide relief for Nazareth. The courts’ refusal to the hear the case is a technicality, not an issue of law. Because Nazareth was eligible for relief, the Jones Act limitations apply and he is therefore not eligible.
The Jones Act contemplates whether a plaintiff can theoretically have relief in his or her own country. It does not contemplate whether a person can easily access that relief.
Are you involved in the maritime trade? Partner with a law firm that has both the experience and knowledge in maritime law. Partner with the Kolodny law firm.