Last week, the Third District Court of Appeal in Florida enforced the terms of a Royal Caribbean passenger ticket and dismissed a lawsuit filed at the last minute in the wrong courthouse.

The case was filed on behalf of a passenger against Royal Caribbean for personal injuries sustained in a cruise ship accident. The passenger hired a local law firm which filed suit a few days before the expiration of the one-year limitation period set forth in the ticket. But instead of filing in federal court as required by the terms of the ticket, her attorneys filed in state court in the Miami-Dade courthouse Roya; Caribbeanwhere most negligence cases can be pursued.

Royal Caribbean filed a motion to dismiss the case. The trial court denied the motion, and the cruise line appealed.

The appellate court reversed the trial court. The appellate court ruled that the cruise line had reasonably communicated the important terms and conditions of the ticket to the passenger before she boarded the cruise ship. The ticket stated in bold and capital letters that the ticket contained important terms and conditions, including a one year limitations period to file suit and a forum selection clause indicating that suit must be filed in United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

The appellate court held that it is irrelevant whether the passenger actually received or read the ticket contract, as long as the ticket contained conspicuous terms and conditions.  

The decision was consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Carnival Cruise Lines, Inc. v. Shute, 499 U.S. 585 (1991).  

The appellate court also ruled that Royal Caribbean had no obligation to remove the case to federal court after the lawsuit was mistakenly filed in the wrong state courthouse. Because of her counsel’s error in filing suit in state court rather than federal court, and the running of the one year limitations period in the interim, the passenger was prohibited from filing suit against the cruise line in the right courthouse.

The only lawsuit the passenger can possibly pursue under these circumstances at this time is a legal malpractice claim against her attorneys.

Practice Tips for Passengers:

  • The cruise line must receive a written notice of your intention to seek compensation within six (6) months of your accident. Have your lawyer write the letter.
  • You must file your lawsuit within one (1) year of the accident.
  • The lawsuit must be filed in the location specified in your ticket.  Most cruise lines like Carnival, Celebrity, NCL and Royal Caribbean require that lawsuits be filed in federal court in Miami. 

Read the terms of your ticket!  The terms are legally enforceable.  

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Photo Credit: Wikipedia / Baldwin040 Creative commons 3.0

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