Premises Liability At The Port of Tampa: Cruise Ship Injuries
The cruising industry is one of Florida’s strongest, with numerous cruise ships leaving from Florida ports like Tampa, Miami and Jacksonville. However, many passengers are caught unawares by the strict legal requirements and specifications they are agreeing to when they accept their cruise tickets. If you are injured on a cruise ship, you may be able to hold the company liable, but at the same time, it is important to understand that the laws are somewhat different than one might expect. These cases will usually fall under the theory of premises liability, but the normal premises liability law is not the standard generally used when a cruise line is the defendant.
Normally, a slip and fall case that occurs in a place other than the plaintiff’s own home qualifies as a premises liability case, and cruise ship injuries are generally no exception – it will often be characterized as ‘failing to provide a safe environment for passengers.’ However, most of the time, premises liability cases do not involve jurisdiction fights – cruise lines are notorious for setting the choice of law and the venue that must be used in any legal proceedings initiated against them. For example, any cruise line based in Miami will almost always specify that any suit brought against them has to be filed in federal court, as opposed to state court (this is for various reasons, including that juries are selected more by the judge than the lawyers in federal court). It is possible to do this because the cruise line makes it a condition of accepting your tickets – if you do not accept venue there, in theory, you cannot have your ticket.
Florida law does give the state’s law enforcement agencies “special maritime jurisdiction” if certain conditions are met – namely, if an offense is committed and the victim is a resident of Florida, if more than half the paying passengers initially embarked and will ultimately disembark in Florida ports, or other specific criteria. However, this applies only to criminal jurisdiction – civil jurisdiction will almost always be governed by whatever choice of law provision the cruise line puts in its ticket contracts.
Similar Principles Apply
Assuming that you are able to navigate the choice of law provisions, and you are able to try and negotiate a settlement or take a case to trial, it is important to understand that in some ways, the standard law of premises liability in Florida does still apply. If, for example, you slip and fall on a foreign substance or an obstacle, you must prove in most cases that the cruise line had either actual or constructive notice of the potential hazard. This is an extremely tall order for most plaintiffs, who might only have been on the scene minutes before their accident, but it is nonetheless the law.
Be aware that cruise lines will often include language shortening the statute of limitations, or the period you have in which to start your lawsuit. Florida law sets the statute of limitations at four years, but cruise lines may shorten this to one year or even less – for example, Royal Caribbean grants one year in which to bring suit, but it also mandates that notice of intent to sue must be provided to Royal Caribbean within six months of the injury. Thus, if you were injured on a Royal Caribbean ship, you would have less than one year to sue, and less still if you delayed in providing notice to the cruise line. Any mistake with these seemingly small details can derail your lawsuit.
Contact An Experienced Tampa Attorney
Because of the ticket contract changes, bringing suit against a cruise line can feel overwhelming. Calling an experienced personal injury attorney can make all the difference. The dedicated Tampa personal injury lawyers at the Rinaldo Law Group will work for you, and try to give you a chance at the most appropriate possible outcome. Call us today at 813-831-9999 for a free consultation.