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Supreme Court rules floating home isn’t a “vessel”

The Supreme Court of the United States issues a ruling earlier this month that could affect what cases are tried under maritime law. At the heart of the case was a Florida man’s floating home, a two-story, 60-foot-long houseboat.

When he towed his boat to a Florida marina, the city where the marina was located attempted to have him evicted. After a series of disputes, the city attempt to place a lien on the craft using federal maritime law. However, the justices ruled 7-2 that the floating home was not a “vessel” and therefore was not subject to maritime law.

According to their ruling, a vessel is a “watercraft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water.” The court focused on the phrase “capable of being used,” looking at the practical capabilities of the watercraft.

The court’s ruling could also have implications for maritime injury claims. The doctrine of premises liability, for example, allows those who are injured on another person’s property due to the property owner’s negligence or failure to maintain it. While people typically associated premises liability claims with icy sidewalks or slip and fall accidents, the principle could potentially apply to a floating home as well.

In addition, the Jones Act is a federal law that gives maritime employees the ability to seek compensation for damages sustained in a work-related injury. Had the floating home been a work site, its distinction as a “vessel” may have been necessary for a Jones Act claim.

If you have been injured in the course of your employment at sea, consider contacting a personal injury attorney experienced in maritime matters. He or she can help you pursue any appropriate claims, navigating complex state and federal law to help you seek the proper damages and get back to your life.

Source: The Associated Press, “Floating home not covered under maritime law,” Jessie Holland, Jan. 15, 2013

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