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Where Can You Sue a Cruise Ship Company?

Being injured on a cruise ship is bad enough. But after suffering a ruined vacation, and traveling home in your injured condition, another unpleasant surprise may await you if you seek legal action against the cruise ship company. Even though you may live in Oregon, and the plaintiff in a lawsuit usually has a choice of where to start suit, in cases such as these, you often don't. You will be litigating your case in Florida, and incurring the expenses to travel across the country to attend depositions and trial. Why? Because your ticket said so, that’s why.

This is what happened to an Oregon family that had the misfortune of being inured on a Carnival Cruise ship traveling between California and Mexico. After appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court, the family had to file their lawsuit in Florida because of a paragraph in their ticket called a forum selection clause.

Forum selection

Forum selection clauses are part of the fine print of the contract between you and the cruise ship company. Even though no one probably asked you about it, forum selection clauses state that in exchange for being allowed on the ship, you agree that if you sue a cruise ship company, you will sue them only in Florida, and usually the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Miami.

Some other interesting things are found in the carriage contract of cruise ship operators. Most require you to notify the company that you intend to file suit within six months of your accident and that you file your lawsuit within one year. This is much shorter than the statutes of limitations for personal injury, which vary from two to four years in most states.

Additional concerns

In addition to the increased travel expenses, the mandated choice of a Federal court in Florida can have other detrimental effects on your lawsuit. Many plaintiff attorneys prefer to file personal injury cases in state courts where they have experience with state court judges and can select juries from places close to where you live. These advantages disappear when the suit must be tried in Florida. In a cruise ship case with a forum selection clause, your attorney will probably have to incur the extra expense of retaining local counsel in Florida to assist with the case.

If you are injured on a cruise ship, be sure to consult with an attorney experienced in maritime law as soon as possible.