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The shipping laws of the United States, set forth in Title 46 of the United States Code, apply only to areas and transactions in which American law would be considered operative under prevalent doctrines of international law.
A Danish seaman, while temporarily in New York, joined the crew of a ship of Danish flag, registry and owner. The ship's articles provided that the rights of crew members would be governed by Danish law and by the contract with a Danish seamen's union. The seaman filed suit under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C.S. § 688, in a New York federal district court after he was negligently injured on the ship while in Havana harbor. The district court applied United States rather than Danish law, and the jury rendered a verdict for the seaman. The owner sought review of the court of appeals decision that affirmed the judgment, arguing that Danish law should have been applied.
Was the Jones Act, giving a right of action to "any seaman" suffering injury in the course of employment applicable?
The court held that the connecting factors, which either maritime law or American municipal law of conflicts regarded as significant in determining the law applicable to a claim of actionable wrong, showed an overwhelming preponderance in favor of Danish law. The court noted that the parties were both Danish subjects; the events took place on a Danish ship, not within United States territorial waters; and the contract provided that the law of Denmark should govern.