A Court for Icarus: Defining Maritime Tort Jurisdiction in Aircraft Crash Cases

David A. Freedman | Comment

When aircraft crash into navigable waters, a myriad of legal issues arise. Before any can be adjudicated, an admiralty court must first ascertain whether it has jurisdiction. Practitioners should be aware of the procedural and substantive rules inherent in admiralty before choosing where to bring suit. These rules can be quite different from their state or common law counterparts. For example, while the United States Constitution guarantees the right to a trial by jury under certain circumstances, there is no corresponding right in admiralty. Prejudgment interest, which is often recoverable in admiralty, may not be recoverable if the claim is brought under federal question jurisdiction. Different statutes of limitations may apply. This nonexhaustive list highlights the significance in the choice of where to bring suit.

This Comment analyzes admiralty jurisdiction over aviation tort. Part II provides a historical background of maritime tort jurisdiction. Part III synthesizes the current state of admiralty law in the context of aviation tort claims. Part IV discusses the lack of equity and uniformity over such claims. Part V contends that equity would best be served by adopting a less restrictive test over whether an aviation tort claim can be brought under general maritime law. Part VI proposes a way to achieve this equitable result. Finally, Part VII concludes by urging the Supreme Court to offer additional guidance as to the contours of maritime jurisdiction in the context of aviation tort.