Cruise Ship Personal Injury Case Location Discussed in Florida Appellate Decision

When one seeks damages in a Florida personal injury case, the question of where to file suit may not be one of the injured person’s top concerns. Filing an action in the county in which the accident occurred is straightforward, but occasionally the question of jurisdiction is more complex. Passengers on cruise ships from around the U.S. and across the world may be surprised to learn that they must file an action in Florida, where the cruise ship company is based. Agreements to litigate matters are included on the ticket, and these type of corporate-led arrangements are allowed by law. Similarly, cruise ship employees are bound by employment agreements and can be required to file suit in Florida.

A recent appellate decision (No. 4D17-514) addresses this topic. A cruise ship employee sued for negligence in Florida under the Jones Act, alleging the vessel was unseaworthy after he lost a finger and permanently damaged three others while mooring a supply vessel. The cruise ship corporation moved to dismiss, arguing forum non conveniens. Forum non conveniens is a common law doctrine that allows a case to be tried in a different jurisdiction that is more convenient, even though a local court technically has jurisdiction. This doctrine is also used to prevent plaintiffs from “forum shopping” for the best result when the choices involve international locations.

The cruise ship company in this case moved to dismiss, arguing the Florida county was an inconvenient forum and Florida had no true connection to the case. The company provided affidavits and contracts to the court, showing they sold the ship for scrap before the employee was hired by another company to help move the ship to India from the Bahamas. The ship made a stop in Namibia, where the injury-causing accident occurred. The company argued this sequence of events showed they did not have control over the ship, nor the employee. The company argued the ship was never docked in Florida after it was sold, the employee was not medically treated in Florida, and none of the witnesses were located in the state. The company pointed out they were initially and mistakenly listed as the owner of the ship in the employment contract, but they felt they had provided enough proof the ship had been sold and delivered to the buyer prior to the employee’s hire.

The employee countered this conclusion was premature because he hadn’t been able to conduct further discovery this early in the process. The Fourth District Court of Appeal disagreed, focusing on the trial court’s failure to weigh the factors found in Kinney System, Inc. v. Continental Ins. Co., 674 So. 2d 86 (Fla. 1996). In Kinney, the Florida Supreme Court adopted the four-step federal method for determining forum non conveniens. A court faced with the question of an appropriate forum must first look to see if another forum exists that possesses jurisdiction over the whole case and is an adequate alternative. Next, the judge must consider all relevant factors of private interest, weighing in the balance a strong presumption against disturbing the injured person’s forum choice. If the interests are essentially equal, the trial court is then tasked with deciding if factors in favor of public interest tip the balance in favor of a different forum. If the public interest is better addressed in the alternative forum, the court must lastly ensure the plaintiff can reinstate the case in the alternative forum without undue prejudice or inconvenience. In the present action, the Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s denial of the defendant cruise ship company’s motion and remanded for further proceedings, directing the trial court to weigh the Kinney factors.

If you’ve been injured in Florida, contact the personal injury attorneys at Donaldson & Weston. Our lawyers have the experience you need to fully litigate and negotiate your case. Call our office 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