Cruise ships have gotten very good at insulating themselves from liability in cases where passengers have suffered injury or harm at sea. One of the strategies has been to print extensive “contracts” on the backs of tickets that must be signed before passengers are allowed to board.
But several months ago, a trial court ruled in favor of a plaintiff in finding she wasn’t necessarily bound by the language in the ticket contract because there was no proof she had actually read it. However, that reasoning didn’t sit well with the Third District Court of Appeals in Miami, which reversed the lower court and granted the cruise line defendant’s motion to dismiss in Royal Caribbean Cruises v. Clarke. The appellate panel determined the cruise line had “reasonably communicated” important terms and conditions before the patron boarded.
The ruling by the Third District, which was based on language in the contract designating the proper jurisdiction in which to file any disputes, underscores the importance of carefully reading one’s ticket – and ensuring your lawyer does too. Florida remains the cruise ship capital of the world, with people setting sail from ports all along both coasts. Our Boca Raton injury attorneys know that obtaining information on exactly how many incidents and injuries occur is not easy, because cruise ships are largely allowed to self-report. Only certain deaths must be reported to the FBI, and then those may be reported to the public.
The site cruisejunkie.com keeps a relatively comprehensive list of incidents, crimes and injuries that occur on cruise ships. Most often, these incidents amount to inconveniences (loss of power, fire in a kitchen, running aground, etc.). However there are a fair number of serious illness, injuries and even deaths reported.
For example, in September, a 20-year-old passenger fell overboard and died after climbing the forward mast of a ship in Miami. In August, a 24-year-old passenger was rescued after falling overboard on a ship in Fort Lauderdale. There are also numerous reported incidents of contagious illness, sexual assaults, child drownings and vessel collisions.
In the recent Clarke case, the appellate court does not detail what the underlying claim regarded, except to say the passenger asserted negligence. However, the language on the ticket indicated that any litigation arising out of purported negligence was to be filed within one year, and further had to be filed in federal district court.
Several days before the one-year deadline, the passenger filed her lawsuit in state court. The cruise line responded with a motion to dismiss for improper venue.
In reversing the trial court’s denial of motion to dismiss, the appellate court specifically noted the first paragraph of the ticket contract, which stated in bold letters that the document “Contains important limitations on the rights of passengers, it is important that you carefully read all terms of this contract,” noting particular attention should be paid to sections pertaining to the statute of limitations and jurisdictional issues.
The court found the provision to have been “reasonably communicated,” per the standard set in Leslie v. Carnival Corp. in 2009. That is, the issue is not whether the passenger actually received and read the ticket, but whether the cruise ship operator reasonably communicates to passengers the existence within the ticket of important terms and conditions.
If you or a loved one have suffered serious injury or illness while aboard a cruise ship out of South Florida, it’s important to contact an injury lawyer with experience.
Contact the Hollander Law Firm at (888) 751-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
Royal Caribbean Cruises v. Clarke, Oct. 8, 2014, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal
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