State Supreme Court Reviews Whether DUI Injuries Could Be Litigated under Federal Admiralty Law

Washington prosecutes those who operate vessels under the influence, with Boating Under the Influence (BUI) laws that are very similar to the DUI statutes. Just as someone can seek civil remedies for injuries caused by a DUI accident, an injured person may pursue recovery for the injuries that resulted from a BUI accident. Some injury accidents clearly invoke federal maritime jurisdiction, but questions of whether or not jurisdiction exists regularly arise and can be seen in several United States Supreme Court decisions.

A recent state Supreme Court case out of Texas relied upon the U.S. Supreme Court precedent that helps determine whether or not federal admiralty jurisdiction exists through the questions of 1) whether the event has a disruptive impact on maritime commerce, and 2) whether the general character of the activity leading up to the injury-causing incident shows a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity. In Schlumberger Tech. Corp. v. Arthey, a couple was catastrophically injured after their motorcycle was struck by a man in an intersection. Following the accident, it was discovered he had a blood alcohol limit of .31 at the time of the accident, which is more than 3 1/2 times the legal limit. The man had previously been drinking on a boat rented for a retreat sponsored by a corporate business partner. The "outfitter" provided by the company often stocked alcohol on the boat, since it was not provided by the associated hotel. The injured company sued the company host for negligence and sought maritime jurisdiction, alleging that the company was responsible for the driver's actions because the driver became intoxicated on the boat.

To determine whether the accident met the first part of the established two-part test, the state Supreme Court summarized the incident leading up to the accident as alcohol consumed by guests on a boat in navigable waters. The court failed to see any impact on maritime commerce because the guests did not operate the boat, and any possibility of rescue due to inebriation on a boat would not cause any impact on maritime commerce. For the second part of the test, the court did not feel that drinking on a fishing boat constituted traditional maritime activities that would require the oversight of standard navigation rules. The court drew a distinction between the fact patterns in the case cited by the injured person, where unmonitored, excessive alcohol consumption occurred on large commercial vessels, from unmonitored, excessive alcohol consumption on small fishing boats designed for tourists. Based on its analysis, the court overturned the appellate court ruling in favor of the injured person and determined that federal admiralty jurisdiction did not apply.

The Washington catastrophic injury attorneys John Merriam and Gordon Webb have aggressively and successfully litigated maritime personal injury cases for over 50 years. As experienced admiralty lawyers and former seamen, we understand the unique ways to recover monetary damages under federal admiralty law. Our attorneys and staff will tirelessly pursue all avenues of legal relief to maximize the compensation you deserve. If you have been injured during a voyage or on a boat, whether it's due to inebriation or poor vessel maintenance, contact our office today for a free, confidential consultation.

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