Effectively representing a passenger injured on a cruise ship is often very complicated for lawyers. The most difficult task is making sure that the claim is properly filed in the correct court before the statute of limitations expires. Statues of limitations are legal deadlines that mandate certain actions to take place or a law suit will get dismissed.
Most cruise ship claims fall under general maritime law; however, cruise ships have additional specific laws that apply to injured passenger claims. For instance, cruise lines often place special provisions into their passenger tickets that shorten the amount of time required to initiate a claim. For example, a slip and fall in Florida shopping mall, in most cases, gives the injured four (4) years to file a law suit. If the fall occurs on a cruise ship, however, the time is shortened to one (1) year. This can often lead to missed statutes of limitations, especially when claimants or their lawyers try to negotiate a settlement to avoid the cost of filing fees during the year following the fall. Once the year is up, suddenly the cruise line stops returning calls or pretends to be “working on a settlement,” forcing the injured to file a law suit only to realize the statute of limitations expired. Cruise lines routinely get these cases dismissed and unrepresented claimants are left with no recourse or their attorneys are forced to put their legal malpractice carriers on notice.
Another cruise line defense is to force all claims to be filed in Federal Court in Miami, Florida. This is often referred to as the Forum Selection Clause. Federal Court in Miami may be the appropriate forum even when the ship, passenger, or crew has no connection to Miami. For instance, a Saudi citizen on a cruise departing from Barcelona, Spain, who slips and falls and is injured while the ship is embarking from Nice, France, may have to still file her claim in Miami, Florida. And of course, this must be done within one year. Cruise lines have been uniformly successful in getting cases dismissed when they are filed in the wrong jurisdiction or venue. For example, filing the claim in Miami-Dade Circuit Court and not the Southern District of Florida, in Miami, could result in having the entire claim dismissed.
The leading case which recognized the validity of a forum selection clause in a passenger ticket contract involved Carnival Cruise Lines. The name of the case is Carnival Cruise Lines, Inc. v. Shute, 499 U.S. 585; 111 S.Ct. 1522 (1991). In this case, the United States Supreme Court ruled that forum selection clauses should be enforced so long as the clause is not unreasonably burdensome on the party seeking to escape it. The passengers were from Washington and were injured on a Carnival Cruise ship in international waters off the coast of Mexico. The passengers filed the law suit in Washington and the case was dismissed. The appeal went all the way to the Supreme Court. It was ultimately held that the passengers had bought the ticket and no one had forced them to go on the cruise, so the forum selection of Miami was not unreasonable.
To complicate matters even more, the majority of cruise line vessels are purposely registered in non-US territories. This is done because the laws of these other countries are less favorable to the rights of injured passengers.
If you are hurt on a cruise liner it is important to take immediate action to protect your legal rights.
1. Make sure the incident is reported to the ship’s security department immediately. Failing to report an incident will give the ship a strong argument to deny the event ever occurred.
2. Obtain a copy of the written report and refuse to sign anything written in the report.
3. Get witnesses’ names, email addresses, phone numbers and hopefully photos of anyone who witnessed either the event, clean up, or your injury.
4. If injured, go to the infirmary and seek immediate medical care. Obtain the names of the people who treat you and make sure you give an accurate medical history of any prior injuries.
5. If the ship is unable to provide you with adequate care, seek medical care at the next port of call. Let the ship’s personnel know you are going to the hospital. At this point, your health is more important than the cruise.
6. Contact an experienced passenger injury lawyer immediately to preserve your legal rights.
Passengers are often injured on cruise ships by slipping and falling at the pool or water slides, from bad food, or by assault. As a Cruise Ship Injury Lawyer, I am committed to protecting the legal rights of those injured aboard a cruise ship.