While many people have a vague notion that legal claims for damages are governed by deadlines referred to as the statute of limitations, they might not be aware of the special challenges they present in a cruise ship injury lawsuit. Although the statute of limitations in Florida is four years from the date of injury, the deadline is much shorter in cruise injury lawsuits. When passengers book a cruise, they often do not notice the “fine print” on the back of the ticket or receipt. This ticket contract will typically change the statute of limitations to only a year and might even pose a notice requirement that must be fulfilled earlier than that deadline, such as within six months. Passengers injured on a cruise need to be cognizant of this shortened deadline, as well as the importance of compliance with this timing requirement. In this blog, our Miami cruise ship injury lawyers examine a slip and fall case that demonstrates the harsh consequences of failing to comply with the statute of limitations.
In Pettit v. Carnival Corp., a woman slipped and fell, suffering an injury while a guest on a Carnival cruise ship. The woman was subject to a ticket contract that provided the statute of limitations was shortened to one-year from the date of the incident causing injury. The woman filed a lawsuit in Miami-Dade County state court for personal injury approximately two weeks before the expiration of the one-year statute of limitations.
Carnival responded by filing a motion to dismiss the lawsuit based on the forum selection clause in the passenger ticket contract. This clause provided that any lawsuit against the cruise line must be filed in the Southern District of Florida (e.g. federal court). After the motion to dismiss, the passenger refiled her lawsuit in the Southern District of Florida more than two weeks after the initial filing. The cruise line filed a motion for summary judgment based on the expiration of the one-year statute of limitations as outlined in the ticket contract.
The plaintiff opposed the motion for summary judgment, but she conceded that her lawsuit was filed in federal court more than a year after her slip and fall accident. The passenger opposed the motion for summary judgment based on the contention of “equitable tolling.” The legal doctrine of equitable tolling allows the statute of limitations to be suspended if the court determines an “inequitable event” prevents filing within the statute of limitations. For example, the defendant might send a letter to the plaintiff misrepresenting the statute of limitations as two years. Events that might justify equitable tolling include (1) the plaintiff acting with proper diligence but filing a pleading that is technically defective; (2) the late filing being caused by misleading conduct of the defendant; (3) the plaintiff lacking a reasonable way of discovering the wrongful act causing injury; and (4) other situations where fairness and justice make tolling appropriate.
Because plaintiffs are the parties seeking to be excused from failing to comply with the statute of limitations, they have the burden of proof to establish an inequitable cause of their failing to file the lawsuit in a timely matter. The court found that the passenger failed to meet her burden of proof because the ticket contract specifically provided that the statute of limitations was one year and that the lawsuit must be filed in the Southern District of Florida. The court noted that this was not a surprising result because cruise accident claims on ships are decided under federal courts’ admiralty law jurisdiction. The court also pointed out the delay in bringing the claim in state court, and the failure to serve Carnival for two months after filing in federal court.
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Since Carnival had not done anything to prevent the passenger from filing her lawsuit in a timely fashion, the court found there was no basis for equitable tolling. This decision serves as a reminder of the importance of talking to a Miami cruise ship injury attorney as soon as possible after an accident. The statute of limitations in cruise ship cases will involve a much tighter window, and issues might come up that require refiling.
If you are injured while on a cruise, our Miami cruise injury lawyers at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano will tenaciously pursue the fullest financial compensation. For over 130 collective years, our firm has assisted accident victims in personal injury and wrongful death actions across South Florida. We seek to obtain compensation for your tangible and intangible damages, including medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more. Our skill and dedication have earned us an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell and recognition as one of South Florida’s top firms by the Miami Herald. Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.