Gangway Permanently Attached to Pier is Not Maritime Locality

In Adamson v. Port of Bellingham, No. 14-1804, 2015 WL 4716421 (W.D. Wash. August 6, 2015), a U.S. District Court in Washington was asked to determine whether the plaintiff’s common law negligence claim qualified as a maritime tort outside of admiralty jurisdiction, thus invoking Washington state law as opposed to maritime substantive law.  Plaintiff was an officer aboard the car ferry M/V COLUMBIA, owned by the State of Alaska.  Plaintiff was on a gangway leading from the port to the ship when it fell, injuring her.  The gangway was part of a steel structure permanently affixed to a pier extending from the land over the water.  In determining whether Plaintiff’s claim qualified as a maritime tort, the Court cited the two-part test identified by the Ninth Circuit in Taghadomi v. United States, 401 F.3d 1080, 1084 (9th Cir. 2005): 1) the tort must occur on or over navigable water to provide “situs” or “locality,” and 2) there must be a significant “nexus” between the actions giving rise to the claim and traditional maritime activity.


Turning to the “locality” component, the Court noted that the locality test excludes injuries occurring on permanent, fixed structures such as piers, jetties, bridges, and ramps.  The Court acknowledged cases where gangplanks or other methods of ingress and egress from a vessel met the locality test but noted that in those instances the claims were made against the vessel or vessel owner where there was a duty to provide a safe means of embarking and disembarking the ship.  In this case, Plaintiff did not bring suit against the State of Alaska, as owner of the M/V COLUMBIA.  Instead, the State of Alaska was made a third-party defendant and the claims against it were later dismissed on sovereign immunity-related grounds.  Since the Plaintiff did not bring a claim against the vessel, which may have owed a duty of care to its crew with respect to means of embarking and disembarking, and the fact that the gangway was permanently affixed to the pier, the Court found that the Plaintiff failed to meet the locality requirement of the test for maritime tort.


Adamson v. Port of Bellingham