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Admiralty & Maritime Law: Introduction

Resources for researching the admiralty and maritime law of the United States.

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Introduction to Admiralty Law

“Admiralty” is a complex and comprehensive body of law.  It has been defined in part as “the rules governing contract, tort, and workers’-compensation claims arising out of commerce on or over navigable water.”  Admiralty, BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY (10th ed. 2014).  As this definition implies, many seemingly routine legal claims may be subject to admiralty jurisdiction.  The admiralty jurisdiction of American courts is specifically dealt with in Article III the United States Constitution.  The Constitution grants subject matter jurisdiction over admiralty and maritime cases to the federal judiciary.  U. S. CONST. art. III, § 2, cl. 1.  Yet despite the straightforward language of the Constitution, jurisdictional issues in admiralty cases can still prove to be very complex.  For example, in the United States Code, 28 U.S.C. § 1333 states that the federal districts courts will have original jurisdiction, exclusive of the courts of the individual states, over any civil case of admiralty or maritime jurisdiction.  28 U.S.C. § 1333(1) (2006).   But this section of the Code also includes the “saving to suitors” clause, allowing litigants to pursue “all other remedies to which they are otherwise entitled.”  Id.  In the right circumstances, therefore, the “savings to suitors” clause allows a party to “choose either a federal or state forum by providing that state courts may exercise concurrent jurisdiction over maritime claims.”  Iwag v. Geisel Compania Maritima, S.A., 882 F.Supp. 597, 603 (S.D.Tex. 1995).  Careful research is required in order to clearly understand what claims in any cause of action are potentially Admiralty matters, and what courts may properly exercise jurisdiction over them. 


The full reach of admiralty jurisdiction is just one of the many issues and problems legal researchers and practitioners must be able to recognize and thoroughly understand when dealing with potential admiralty claims.  This Guide for researching issues in Admiralty Law is meant to be a study supplement for Villanova Law School students, and features resources available through the Villanova University School of Law Library.  It is by no means comprehensive, but it does provide a point of departure for law students and other legal professionals conducting research into modern American admiralty law.  As with all legal research, continue your efforts until you find you have a clear understanding of the issues at hand and a sufficient quantity of the proper authority to support your arguments.  Always remember to update your selected authorities with citation services such as Shepard’s, KeyCite, or B-Cite.  Consult a Reference Librarian for additional assistance as necessary.


Villanova Law School students and faculty will have access to the electronic resources mentioned herein. Some of the listed resources are freely available on the Web, while others may require a password to access them if the researcher is working in a location other than the Villanova campus.  Lexis+, Westlaw and Bloomberg Law require a password-protected user account.  If you need assistance with locating any materials or with accessing any of the Library’s electronic databases, consult a Reference Librarian.

Subject Guide

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Robert Hegadorn
Villanova University School of Law

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Villanova, Pennsylvania 19085