Appellate Court Discusses Appropriate Venue for Florida Slip and Fall Action

In a slip and fall case, the location of the accident often determines which venue is appropriate for a civil action. Sometimes if one files suit against a business, the injured person may choose to file suit in the state where the corporation’s headquarters are located. In an appellate decision out of the Third District Court of Appeal, the court reviewed whether or not the state court system was an appropriate venue for a slip and fall that occurred while a woman was about to embark on a cruise.

The injured passenger alleged the corporation had a duty to supervise, control, and direct the crowd using the escalator as they collectively boarded the ship. She claimed they failed to provide safe ingress and egress to the cruise ship by using a faulty entranceway. The cruise ship company moved to dismiss, arguing the venue was improper based on the forum selection clause.  When the passenger purchased her ticket, she agreed to all of the terms and conditions within it, including the selection of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida if an incident leads to litigation. The passenger asserted her case was properly filed in state court because the federal court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The trial court agreed with the injured passenger and denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss, as well as the motion to reconsider. The cruise ship company appealed.

The state court of appeal noted the federal court’s general authority to hear maritime cases stems from the U.S. Constitution. They also looked at federal and state case law, which has long established forum selection clauses on cruise ship tickets are enforceable. The court concluded that federal court is the preferred venue, and it is only in the absence of admiralty jurisdiction when the proper venue is in the state court.

The Third District felt the core issue of the appeal was whether the federal court or the state court had subject matter jurisdiction based on the location of the fall. The cruise ship company pointed to its previous decision in 2015. In this case, the passenger was injured as she was exiting a ship after she fell over a metal stand between the pathway off the ship and the luggage claim area. The forum selection clause stated suit must be filed in the federal Southern District Court of Florida for any incident involving travel to and from the vessel. The clause also stated that if the federal court lacked subject matter jurisdiction, the lawsuit must be filed in the state court within the same county. In that case, the appellate court found for the cruise company, determining the federal court had subject matter jurisdiction based on the location of that fall.

The injured woman relied upon an unpublished federal case with a similar fact pattern. In that case, the passenger suffered injuries from falling on a roadway in front of the Florida port terminal. The federal district court remanded the case to the state court after finding there was no basis to exercise admiralty jurisdiction. The federal district court determined the locality test had not been met because the accident occurred on land rather than on navigable waters, nor was it caused by a vessel on navigable waters.

Ultimately, the Third District Court of Appeal concluded the Extension of the Admiralty Jurisdiction Act applied to the case at hand, since the general character of the activity giving rise to the incident had a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity. The appellate court found the use of the walkway was connected to the maritime activity, and its location was similar enough to prior cases that had determined the locality nexus was met. The trial court’s decision to keep the case within the state court system was reversed.

The Florida slip-and-fall attorneys at Donaldson & Weston have the experience you need to help you with your personal injury case. If you’ve been injured and would like to know your options, contact our office today for a free, confidential consultation at 772-266-5555 or 561-299-3999.

More Blog Posts:

Florida District Appellate Court Reviews Future Medical Expenses in Multi-Car Accident Case, Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, November 28, 2016

Federal Circuit Court of Appeal Declines to Find Equitable Tolling in Slip and Fall Case, Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, October 21, 2016

Florida Court of Appeal Allows Injured Motorist to Pursue Additional PIP Payments to Medical Providers, Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, May 18, 2017