Forum Selection Clause Upheld in Miami Court
Lawlor White and Murphey, Michael F. Guilford, P.A. and Parrish Appeals lost their attempt to avoid application of the federal court forum selection provision found in most passenger ticket contracts. The attorneys had drafted their complaints in fashion that avoided the federal court’s admiralty jurisdiction.
When a passenger purchases a ticket from a major cruise line, the ticket is actually a contract. When the passenger agrees to board the ship, they are also agreeing to the provisions contained in the fine print of the ticket contract. Passengers cannot change the language of the ticket contract. The cruise is offered on a take it or leave it basis. One of the provisions buried in the fine print provides that in the event you are injured aboard the cruise ship, you must bring your claim in the court of its choosing, more often than not, the federal district court in Florida. If you are a Florida resident and the cruise is based in Florida, the only basis for jurisdiction in federal court is admiralty. The problem with admiralty jurisdiction is that it does not provide for trial by jury. The passenger is potentially stuck with a bench trial before a federal judge.
Our firms attempted to draft complaints which only. Implicated the “at law” negligence claims. The district courts agreed and dismissed the actions in favor of state court proceedings, with a jury.
Federal versus State Jurisdiction
In a typical passenger case, there are two bases for jurisdiction in federal court, diversity (where the plaintiff is from one state and the cruise line from another) and admiralty. Diversity jurisdiction provides the passenger with a right to jury trial, in admiralty jurisdiction there is no “right” to jury trial. The cruise lines pick federal court because there is very limited jury selection (the lawyer’s ability to ask jurors questions and determine if they are biased) and the juries tend to be more conservative (award less money).
The 11th Circuit found, for the first time ever, that admiralty jurisdiction existed, whether invoked by the passenger or not, because the case arose on navigable waters. The appeals court completely ignored the fact that the passengers had invoked the “savings to suitors” clause which allowed the passengers to pick where they wanted to sue and the fact that admiralty jurisdiction would deny the passengers their “right” to jury trial, putting in a footnote that Carnival had “agreed” to a jury trial.
The 11th Circuit has not yet sent the cases back to the federal trial courts and the attorneys are evaluating their options.
Talk to a Miami Cruise Line Injury Attorney Today
Injured aboard a cruise ship? Call Miami admiralty & maritime lawyer Michael F. Guilford today to schedule a free consultation.