Articles Posted in Forum Selection Clause

Cruises are intended to be memorable and fun. However, a frolic on the sea is not free of risk. Indeed, the facts of a recent decision from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Pettit v. Carnival Corp., show that sea voyages are not without potential mishaps.

The accident at issue in Pettit occurred on September 24, 2013. The plaintiff in this case was a passenger on the Carnival Breeze. While at sea, the plaintiff slipped and fell, leading to various physical injuries. Once back on the ground, the plaintiff brought suit against Carnival in a Florida state court in Miami-Dade County. However, the contractual terms on the plaintiff’s ticket, in particular the forum selection clause, required that she bring suit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Two months afterward, the plaintiff finally served Carnival. Carnival then moved to dismiss the suit based on improper forum. Realizing the error, the plaintiff then filed the complaint in federal court. This, however, didn’t solve the plaintiff’s trouble. The ticket contract also included a statute of limitations provision that afforded passengers only one year to bring personal injury suits. The plaintiff had filed her state court suit only 12 days before the expiration of the contractual statute of limitations, and by the time the plaintiff filed suit in federal court the statute of limitations had long elapsed. Carnival moved for summary judgment, asserting the plaintiff’s claim was time-barred. The plaintiff opposed, arguing that the statute of limitations should be equitably tolled. Unfortunately for the plaintiff, the trial court concluded otherwise.

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Although contract formation is often considered a formal process involving parties sitting at a conference table negotiating terms and memorializing a final agreement, every day people unknowingly enter into binding agreements that have sweeping implications for their rights. The realities of modern contracting are at the center of the Third District Court of Appeals’ recent decision in Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. v. Clarke, in which the court held that the forum selection provision of a contract contained on the cruise line ticket should have been enforced by the trial court.

The Clarke litigation began when a passenger allegedly injured while abroad a Royal Caribbean Cruise vessel brought a negligence action against the company on October 9, 2013 in Miami-Dade County. The action was initiated only a few days before the expiration of the one-year limitations period imposed by the ticket contract. Shortly after the claim was brought, Royal Caribbean moved to have the case dismissed, arguing that the claim had been improperly brought in state court rather than federal court, as was provided by the forum selection provision of the ticket contract. In support of this motion, Royal Caribbean submitted an affidavit stating that the plaintiff, like all other passengers, needed to check in and accept all the terms of the ticket contract before boarding the vessel. The trial court denied the motion, holding that there was no evidence that the plaintiff actually received and read the ticket contract provisions. However, the Third District Court of Appeal unanimously reversed the trial court’s ruling and dismissed the case.

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