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Special Challenges of Proving Slip and Fall Liability – Using the Passenger Contract to Limit Guest Rights

Florida law places significant roadblocks in the path of individuals who are injured in falls on the premises of a resort, hotel, or other commercial business catering to the public.  Maritime and admiralty law, which governs slip and fall and trip and fall accidents at sea, places special barriers in the path of injury victims who experience such injuries while on a cruise.  When these barriers are combined, the prospects of success without a knowledgeable Miami cruise injury lawyer with a track record of successful judgments and verdicts against the major cruise lines are bleak.  In this two-part blog post, we examine some of the barriers that cruise victims must overcome when pursuing a slip and fall accident claim against a cruise company in the context of examples from actual cases.

Passenger Ticket Contract Restrictions on Passenger Rights

The barriers to pursuing a fall-related injury claim against a cruise line begin when passengers purchase their ticket.  For the typical passenger, their ticket is simply a way to establish they have paid for the right to take part in the cruise.  Few travelers take the time to carefully study the contract on the back of the ticket.  However, the ticket contract constitutes a powerful tool used to shield cruise companies from liability and to induce passengers to limit or extinguish valuable rights.  Key provisions in the passenger ticket contract that slip and fall victims must be aware of include:

Shortening Time to File a Lawsuit: The statute of limitations in the state courts of Florida for a personal injury lawsuit is four years after a slip and fall incident.  However, the cruise passenger ticket agreement used by most major cruise companies shorten the time to commence a lawsuit to as short as one year.  The consequence of failing to comply with this timing requirement will be a permanent bar to obtaining compensation through a lawsuit in almost all situations.

Determining the Court to Hear the Case: The standard passenger ticket contract will contain a forum selection clause.  This provision will compel a cruise injury victim into United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida.  This selection of federal court jurisdiction provides the cruise company with multiple advantages that include ensuring the care proceeds without the opportunity for a jury trial.

Mandatory Notice Provision: Trip and fall victims injured during cruises also will be required by the ticket agreement to provide notice prior to filing a lawsuit.  This mandatory notice typically will be required within 90 days of the fall causing injury.

These are only a few examples of the way the ticket contract compromises a passenger’s slip and fall claim before the guest even leaves on a cruise.  Most cruise passengers do not attempt to parse the dense legalese that constricts the rights and remedies of victims of negligent cruise companies.  In Petit v. Carnival Corp., a passenger who slipped and fell on a Carnival cruise ship filed a lawsuit in Miami-Dade County state court a couple weeks prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations, which was shortened to a year by the ticket agreement.  The cruise line filed a request to have the case dismissed based on the forum selection clause specifying the case be filed in federal court (Southern District of Florida).

The trial judge granted Carnival’s motion for summary judgment, so the plaintiff refiled in federal court a couple weeks outside the one-year limitations period.  While the plaintiff requested the court apply the doctrine of “equitable tolling” to allow the lawsuit to move forward, the court found no basis to grant this request because the insured could have read the clause in the ticket contract.

Greenberg, Stone, & Urbano:  Seeking Maximum Recovery for Serious Injury and Wrongful Death Victims and Families

While the ticket contract stacks the deck against injured guests before the ship even departs from the port, the law related to slip and fall accidents at sea pose additional challenges as indicated in the next blog post.  Our Miami personal injury lawyers at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano offer the assistance you need to pursue the results you desire.  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.

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