One of the surprises awaiting passengers after they have been injured or assaulted on a cruise ship is language in the passenger ticket which requires them to file suit in a jurisdiction far from their home.
Most passengers are required to file suit here in Miami. Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Norwegian Cruise Lines have prepared "forum selection clauses" which include Federal District Court in Miami as the location where the passenger is required to file suit. The United States Supreme Court has upheld the right of cruise lines to use "forum selection clauses," even though the passenger lives far away in California or New York and travel to Miami provides an economic hardship.
A case decided recently by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal illustrates the extreme lengths cruise lines will go to prejudice the ability of passengers to obtain compensation for their injuries.
In Seung v. Regent Seven Seas Cruises, a passenger was injured while cruising on the Paul Gauguin cruise ship, operated by Regent Seven Seas Cruises. After Ms. Seung filed suit in South Florida where the cruise line is based, the defense lawyers moved to dismiss the case arguing that the forum selection claim required the lawsuit to be brought in France.
It turns out that the Regent Seven Seas passenger ticket (like most other cruise tickets) requires suit to be filed in Federal Court in the Southern District of Florida. However, this ticket contained a curious twist – if the cruise ship did not call on a U.S. port, the passenger has to file suit in Paris, France.
Mrs. Seung argued that traveling to Paris was unfair and unreasonable because she was an elderly woman; she was financially unable to bring a lawsuit in Paris; she was a California resident with medical limitations, due in part to her injury, that prevent her from traveling to Paris; she would not be entitled to Medicare benefits if she became ill in France during her case; and Paris is a remote, alien forum chosen merely as a means of discouraging passengers from bringing legitimate claims.
The Eleventh Circuit rejected all of Mrs. Seung’s arguments and upheld the district court’s dismissal of her case.
We hope that Ms. Seung knows how to speak French.
For other articles about cruise line forum selection clauses, consider reading:
Credits: Case summary by Leagle.