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Our Miami cruise ship accident lawyers focus on representing those who have been seriously injured while on a cruise. This includes both passengers and frequently crewmembers who get hurt. But the laws, remedies, and legal processes that apply to the 56-year-old lady from Omaha–who on her very first cruise slips and falls on a wet deck or trips over an unmarked threshold in her cabin–are completely different than those that apply to the 22-year-old lady from Manila who works in one of the many bars, casinos, pools, or buffets aboard the ship.

Take for example the case of Javier Brock Moro, a Colombian citizen who worked on one of Norwegian Cruise Line’s (NCL) cruise ships as a seaman. NCL makes all of its crewmembers sign an agreement called the Seaman’s Employment Agreement, which amounts to a contract that contains crucially important legal limitations as to how, when, and where any of its onboard crew and their families can bring claims against it for injury or death.  That agreement also stipulates which country’s law applies to the case.

The agreement essentially limits an injured crew member to bringing claims only under the Jones Act and other legal theories and actions–such as unseaworthiness, wages, maintenance, and cure–under a binding arbitration proceeding rather than being able to file a lawsuit in a courthouse. This essentially deprives the injured cruise ship employee the right to have a judge and jury decide the case’s outcome and, perhaps equally importantly, to hold cruise lines like Norwegian Cruise Line accountable for how they maintain the safety of their ships–not just for crew members but passengers, too.

Mr. Moro, the plaintiff, alleged that while he was employed as a member of the NCL’s vessel’s crew, his finger was amputated by a water valve while he was performing his job duties. His attorneys filed a five-count complaint in Florida state court in Miami, Florida, on October 23, 2012.  NCL had the case “removed,” a process to take cases filed in State Court to Federal Court, and then sought to have the case dismissed and to compel the arbitration provisions contained in the contract. Mr. Moro asked the federal court to “remand,” a process to send a federal case back to state court, and to deny NCL’s motion to dismiss.  

Federal court judge the Honorable Kathleen Williams decided the case and issued a strong order and opinion enforcing the arbitration provision, in favor of Mr. Moro’s attempt to have a Miami judge and jury decide his case. Judge Williams wrote that the Seaman’s Employment Agreement is governed by the United Nations Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, which holds that an arbitration agreement is presumed to be valid unless… a court… finds that the said agreement is “null and void, inoperative or incapable of being performed,” and to do that a court must inquire into the following:

(1) whether the four jurisdictional prerequisites under the Convention are met, and

(2) that none of the Convention’s affirmative defenses apply

The four jurisdictional prerequisites that must be met are the following:

(1) there is an agreement in writing within the meaning of the Convention;

(2) the agreement provides for arbitration in the territory of a signatory of the Convention;

(3) the agreement arises out of a legal relationship, whether contractual or not, which is considered commercial; and

(4) a party to the agreement is not an American citizen.

Mr. Moro agreed that the terms of his employment are in writing and that he is not an American citizen. However, he argued that a seaman’s employment contract is not a “commercial contract” and therefore should not be subject to arbitration under the Convention. The Eleventh Circuit, which is the appellate court that has jurisdiction over federal cases filed in Miami’s federal court, has directly addressed this issue and has found that a seaman’s employment contract creates a commercial relationship that is, in fact, governed by the New York Convention.  

Judge Williams wrote that her court is therefore bound by the precedent created in the Eleventh Circuit, and cannot simply disregard the law as clearly stated by that Court. As a result, she found in upholding the arbitration provision that all four jurisdictional prerequisites were met.

Mr. Moro also argued that the agreement was “null and void, inoperative, or incapable of being performed,” but Judge Williams, relying on the Eleventh Circuit’s opinion, noted that Mr. Moro did not claim that there was any “fraud, mistake, duress or waiver,” but rather that the arbitration agreement is null and void because it deprived him of his U.S. statutory claims. With respect to those arguments, Judge Williams noted that the Eleventh Circuit had enforced the exact same arbitration agreement in a similar case between a seaman and NCL.

This case, like those it relies on, demonstrates the significant legal advantages that cruise lines like NCL enjoy when defending themselves from lawsuits and claims made by injured passengers and crewmembers. If you are injured on a cruise ship, as either a passenger or crewmember, it is important that you retain an experienced cruise ship injury lawyer who is familiar with the intricate federal rules and codes that uniquely apply to maritime accident claims against cruise lines.

Our office has fought hard since 1991 to protect the legal rights of the injured against the Goliath cruise lines of Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, NCL, Disney, Regent Seven Seas, Oceania, and others.  Contact us today and speak to an experienced maritime injury attorney. We offer free initial consultations by telephone, at 305-441-0440, or toll-free at 1-866-597-4529, email [email protected], SKYPE, or FACETIME. Call us today–we are ready to help you recover money for your pain and suffering, lost wages, medical expenses, loss of cruise, and transportation reimbursement.  

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¹The agreement at issue was “part of a union-negotiated collective bargaining agreement,” and the court found that the claims brought by Mr. Moro were “expressly considered” during the contract’s negotiation.

²According to the contract, the law to be applied to the arbitration “shall be the law of the flag state of the vessel,” which is not United States law.

³United Nations Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York 1958) (“The Convention”)…. The arbitration should be held in the country where the injured is a citizen.  For example, Colombia, unless arbitrations are “unavailable under the Convention in that country,” in which case, the arbitration takes place in Nassau, Bahamas.

4Our cruise ship injury lawyers did not represent Mr. Moro.

5Mr. Moro’s complaint in state court included counts for Jones Act negligence, unseaworthiness, failure to provide maintenance and cure, failure to treat, and for wages and penalties