There are several laws across the United States that govern the seas. In Louisiana, the Code of Civil Procedure, Article 1732(6), allows plaintiffs in maritime cases, such as, for example, dockworker injuries, to determine if the matter is to be heard and decided by a jury or a judge. As is the case with defendants in other types of legal matters, maritime defendants do not have the option of asking for a trial by jury.
The underlying reason for this law was the fact that federal courts also allowed only the plaintiff to exercise such an option. In federal courts, however, the case would be heard by a judge appointed for life. In addition, federal judges must be approved by the U.S. Senate and all of his or her decisions are subject to review by a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In the wake of the Article 1732(6) repeal, numerous state court cases were designated non-jury. Therefore, the Louisiana plaintiffs’ bar assumed that under the provisions of the article, defendants were in a relatively advantageous position, as compared to the plaintiffs. Over the course of six years, going back and forth, the article finally was repealed with the help of lobbyists, maritime employers and the state’s governor.
As a result of the repeal of this article, defendants now can choose to have a case decided by a jury. However, the repeal will not be retroactive, as judgments that occurred prior to the repeal are still valid. Moreover, since the statute of limitation for maritime cases is three years, provisions of the repealed article will remain active for those three years, applying to cases filed after the repeal.
The fight for repealing the article succeeded, thereby allowing for an even playing field for maritime defendants in the state courts of Louisiana.
Source: FindLaw.com, “Maritime Defendants Now Have Right to Jury Trial in Louisiana State Court,” accessed on Aug. 9, 2014