While this blog tends to focus on cruise injury claims involving passengers, seamen employees also can pursue personal injury claims while working aboard a cruise ship. While the language of the passenger ticket contract is used to curtail the rights of guests and tip the scales of justice toward the cruise company, certain provisions in crew member employment contracts achieve the same objective toward seamen on cruise ships. In this blog, our experienced cruise ship injury lawyers analyze a recent court decision that addresses the right of crew members on cruise lines to seek remedies in the U.S. Federal Court System despite a conflicting arbitration clause in the crew member’s employment contract.
The arbitration clause in the case presents a common scenario for many seamen employed on cruise lines because it required that legal claims between the employee and the cruise line be litigated in a foreign location under foreign law. Cruise lines rely on a treaty referred to as the New York Convention on the Enforcement of Foreign Arbitration Awards. This treaty authorizes cruise lines to force employees to submit personal injury claims to arbitration when a written contract contemplates foreign performance or litigation between citizens of two different states. However, the treaty indicates that a court of competent jurisdiction can determine if the arbitrator’s decision is unenforceable based on public policy.
In this case, a crew member of a cruise line suffered debilitating injuries due to medical malpractice by the ship doctor. Cruise lines have a legal duty to provide medical attention to seamen crew members. Under the onerous terms of the employment contract, the crew member was compelled to have the case decided under Panamanian law in Monaco. Seamen in this position fight not only logistical nightmares and unfamiliar legal proceedings, but they also deal with arbitrators that have a motivation to be friendly to the cruise lines who pay their fee. Predictably, the crew member’s claim was dismissed as often occurs in arbitrations conducted under seamen employment contracts.
The crewmen filed a claim in federal court requesting the trial court’s arbitration award not be confirmed or that the trial court’s decision be vacated. The seaman advanced a legal principle referred to as the “Prospective Waiver Doctrine.” Under this legal rule, mandatory arbitration provisions that deprive individuals of statutory safeguards under U.S. law are void because they violate public policy. The crew member contended that the arbitration process interfered with the ability of seamen to pursue the protections of the Jones Act under federal law.
The cruise line filed a motion seeking dismissal of the action based on the claim that Monaco had exclusive jurisdiction to modify or vacate the arbitration award. While the District Court agreed that Monaco would have primary jurisdiction, the U.S. court had secondary jurisdiction to recognize or enforce the arbitration award based on public policy. After deciding that the court had jurisdiction under the treaty, the court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss so that the seaman could move forward.
Greenberg, Stone, & Urbano: Seeking Maximum Recovery for Damages Sustained Due to Negligence
Because cruise lines impose many obstacles on passengers and crew members injured on cruise ships, personal injury and wrongful death victims should talk to an experienced Miami cruise injury attorney. 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.