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Court Finds Federal Maritime Jurisdiction in Civil Lawsuit for Injury Suffered in Fall While Disembarking Cruise Ship -– Newell v. Carnival Cruise Lines, 2015 WL 7280635 (3rd DCA 2015)

When a passenger on a cruise is injured, there are many complex issue that must be resolved.  The issue of jurisdiction, which refers, at least in part, to the court empowered to hear the case.  The issue of jurisdiction is especially complicated when the action involves injuries to cruise ship passengers because issues that must be considered include whether the accident occurred at sea, during a shore excursion, with the ship moored in port, or as passengers were embarking or disembarking from the cruise ship.  The recent case of Newell v. Carnival Cruise Lines, 2015 WL 7280635 (3rd DCA 2015) illustrates the complex analysis involved in determining jurisdiction when passengers are disembarking from a cruise ship once back in Miami port.

The plaintiff Maria Newell (“Newell”) was a passenger on the Carnival Cruise Line Imagination and suffered injury after the ship returned to port in Miami. Newell was injured while walking in a restricted area in the terminal.  The complaint alleged that she tripped over a metal stand that was located in a walkway between the luggage claim and U.S. Customs station.  Newell filed her lawsuit in the Florida state court located in Miami-Dade County.  The lawsuit alleged that Carnival was negligent in maintaining the walkway in a safe condition.

The ticket contract included a provision related to forum selection that provided in pertinent part that a claim “arising under, in connection with or incident to [the ticket contract] … including travel to and from the vessel, shall be litigated, if at all, before the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida.”  The ticket contract further specified that the state court for Florida located in Miami-Dade County would be the proper forum if the federal court lacked subject matter jurisdiction.

Carnival moved to dismiss the lawsuit based on the allegation that Newell was required to file the case in federal court.  The trial court accepted this contention and dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice because federal maritime jurisdiction applied under the facts.  Newell appealed the decision.

The 3rd DCA set forth the sole issue on the appeal as follows: Whether admiralty jurisdiction applies when the passenger on a cruise ship experiences an injury in a fall while walking toward the U.S. Customs station in a restricted area of the terminal.  The court indicated that the U.S. Supreme Court has specified the following two tests for determining federal maritime jurisdiction in tort lawsuits: (1) The location test which entails that the injury be “caused by the vessel on navigable water” or the injury occur on navigable water; and (2) the connection test which entails that the that the general character of the activity have a substantial relationship to maritime activity, and the accident have a potentially disruptive impact on maritime activity.

The court found that both tests were satisfied based on the facts in this accident.  The court relying on a prior decision observed that the connectivity test was satisfied because a failure to provide a safe area/process for unloading a commercial vessel has the potential to disrupt maritime commerce.  The court also determined that the location test was satisfied.  The court noted that past decisions clearly hold that the test is met when the cruise line commits a tort (e.g., a fall caused by negligence) during the unloading process and the impact of the incident is not located in a remote area from the location of the wrongful conduct.  The court reasoned that this essentially means that an accident that happens during the process of disembarking satisfies this test.  Since Newell’s injury occurred while disembarking form the ship, the court ruled that both parts of the test for federal maritime jurisdiction were met.

This case demonstrates the complex analysis involved merely in the process of selecting a forum to decide a personal injury case involving a cruise-related injury.  While the cruise line attempted to control where the matter was litigated with language in the ticket contract, the ticket contract is not always the final word on jurisdiction.

If you have been injured because of the careless or inattentive actions of a cruise line, the Florida Cruise Injury Lawyers at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano offer the assistance you need to obtain the results you desire.  With over 130 collective years of experience representing policyholders across South Florida, our firm provides legal representation of unmatched excellence.  Contact our firm as soon as possible to start on the road to protecting your legal rights.  Our firm received an AV rating from Martindale Hubbell and was ranked as a top firm in South Florida by the Miami Herald.   Put our cruise accident attorneys to work on your case.  Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or you can visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.


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